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Joint Committee on Transport and Communications debate -
Tuesday, 26 Jul 2022

Situation at Dublin Airport: Discussion

The topic of this meeting is a discussion of the up-to-date situation at Dublin Airport, including disruption and cancellation of Aer Lingus flight schedules, inconvenience for passengers and displaced baggage.

I welcome representatives of Aer Lingus, the Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, Swissport UK and Ireland and Sky Handling Partner. The purpose of this meeting is information gathering. The committee has done substantial work on aviation and more specifically on the area of passenger aviation. We are grateful to the witnesses for coming. The experience of the travelling public has been the main focus of many of our meetings.

I welcome Ms Lynne Embleton, CEO; Mr. Donal Moriarity, chief corporate affairs officer; and Mr. Peter O'Neill, chief operations officer, Aer Lingus; Mr. Vincent Harrison, managing director; Mr. Gary McLean, deputy managing director; Ms Louise Bannon, head of marketing; and Mr. Kevin Cullinane, group head of communications, DAA; Mr. Tony Tully, director of ground operations, Swissport UK and Ireland; and Mr. Darren Moloney, managing director; Mr. Gerard Kenny, operations manager; and Ms Lorraine Daly, group head of human resources, Sky Handling Partner. I thank all the witnesses for making themselves available.

Witnesses are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable or to otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of the person or entity. Therefore, if their statements are potentially defamatory of an identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative that they comply with any such direction.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I remind members of the constitutional requirement that they must be physically present within the confines of the Leinster House complex in order to participate in public meetings. Reluctantly, I will not permit a member to participate where he or she is not adhering to this constitutional requirement. Therefore, any member who attempts to participate from outside the precincts will be asked to leave the meeting. In this regard, I ask members participating via Microsoft Teams to confirm, prior to making their contributions, to confirm they are on the grounds of the Leinster House campus.

If attending in the committee room, members and officials are asked to exercise personal responsibility in protecting themselves and others from the risk of contracting Covid-19.

I invite Ms Embleton to make her opening statement on behalf of Aer Lingus.

Ms Lynne Embleton

I thank the committee for the opportunity to engage with it once again. Before we get to substantive matters, I will briefly refer to the commentary that surrounded our inability to attend the committee’s planned meeting last week. As members will be aware, we were invited to that meeting at short notice. Not surprisingly, we had commitments that we were unable to change at short notice. We did, however, tell the committee we could attend at a future date or respond in writing to questions, if required. Therefore, we were somewhat taken aback at the comments concerning what was stated to be our refusal to attend on the original date. I am, though, happy to be here.

Great. We are very happy to have Ms Embleton here.

Ms Lynne Embleton

This is an important topic for us all to discuss. This is Aer Lingus’s fifth time attending this committee since the pandemic started. On this occasion, we are here to discuss the operational issues associated with the sector’s recovery.

I will take these issues in turn, starting by putting the disruptions in the aviation sector in context. Doubtlessly, passenger experience has suffered across the aviation sector this summer and some Aer Lingus customers have had their travel disrupted. While Aer Lingus has had cancellations, our flight completion rate was 100% in May and more than 98% in June. Therefore, the vast majority of our customers and their baggage were successfully delivered. Indeed, Aer Lingus operated one of the most robust schedules of any of the European network carriers. We planned, for example, to operate 8,353 flights in June, and we operated 8,130 flights. Therefore, if we compare Aer Lingus' cancellation rate of 1.8% in June with rates elsewhere among large European network carriers, we can see that Lufthansa cancelled 10% of its operations, Air France cancelled 7%, KLM cancelled 11% and EasyJet cancelled 14%.

Aer Lingus apologises to all customers caught up in disruptions and we assure them we are doing everything we can to resolve the issues.

Aer Lingus is incredibly frustrated with the operational disruptions this summer and our staff are doing a remarkable job under significant pressure. I publicly thank the Aer Lingus people and team for what they are doing to look after customers over this summer, with the very many challenges that we are facing.

I will first comment on the readiness of Aer Lingus for the summer. Last October, we published our schedule. We were clear, at that point, of our intention to operate 90% of the 2019 level by the peak summer. We made our schedules publically available. We put our schedules on sale. After the Omicron wave, at the end of last year and beginning of this year, we reiterated our intention to reach 90% of pre-Covid capacity by the summer peak. Aer Lingus planned for this. We planned, recruited and adjusted contracts, where necessary, to ensure that we had the right resources going into the summer, and the right resources with more of a buffer than we would have had for any normal summer. Indeed, in terms of staffing levels, for what was 81% of passengers last June, we had 91% of our staff. There was a significant increase, therefore, in the buffer that we would normally have to accommodate and support any disruption that we might see. Nevertheless, the level of disruption in the system has been significant, which has had an impact on our customers and I will discuss this matter shortly. The readiness of Aer Lingus was not matched by airports and ground handling companies around the network. If every airport and handling agent was as ready as Aer Lingus, then we would not be facing the scale of disruption that passengers are seeing across the network.

I turn to airports and later I will more broadly discuss airports around Europe. In terms of Dublin Airport, I will not cover the specifics of the issues at the beginning of the season as I think that they have been well covered at this committee. Undoubtedly, we have seen an improvement, particularly in screening, at the airport as the summer has progressed and as resources have come on board with the DAA. Aer Lingus acknowledges that those improvements have been in place.

We need to see improvements not only in security screening but also in bussing services, which move passengers and crew around the airport, and in passenger mobility services, which enables passengers to get on and off an aircraft in a timely manner. We need to see improvement in all of those sectors and, indeed, in the cleanliness around the airport as well.

The advice for passengers to arrive at the airport 2.5 hours before departure for a short-haul flight and 3.5 hours before departure for a long-haul flight remains problematic for us. Passengers check in or drop off a bag during the early morning peak so they compete with passengers who are flying later in the day. That situation causes a level of congestion at the points of check in and bag drop, which would be unnecessary if the recommendations were not in place. We need to see further improvements but there has been significant improvements so far this summer. We trust that the work is under way to permanently address these issues. Please note that these issues are not unique to Dublin, which I will discuss in a moment.

More generally, we feel the impact of the infrastructure deficit at Dublin Airport in operations today. That situation will become more critical in the future. Therefore, it is really important that these infrastructural deficits are addressed in a timely manner as the airport and airlines grow passenger numbers into the future.

I refer to the wider aviation system pressures that we are seeing and experiencing. Our operating model of network carriers like Aer Lingus requires significant passengers flows from other airlines and short-haul flights on to long-haul flights. It is inherently more complex than that of a point-to-point airline. We operate to nine out the ten European airports that have been most impacted by disruption and we see that in our connecting traffic, and through the impact on connecting customers in the Dublin hub.

I would like to outline some of the pressures that the system is experiencing. We are seeing an under-resourcing at airports, particularly across Europe. We are seeing under resourcing with ground handlers and other airlines across Europe. That has been a failures of those parties to plan for the return in demand that we had expected for this summer. As a consequence, we are being told to do mandatory cancellations, particularly from Amsterdam airport and Heathrow airport, to reduce our flights and the number of flights that we had planned. We are seeing security screening issues and baggage system failures in these airports, particularly at Amsterdam Airport and Heathrow Airport. Where airports have closed terminals, and not yet reopened them, so the terminals where we are operating are incredibly congested and the infrastructure struggles to cope. We are seeing stand and gate availability problems when we arrive in these European airports. In addition, there has been industrial action, particularly by French and Italian air traffic control, which has added further disruption to this summer. Finally, we have not seen the end of Covid sickness, which has impacted Aer Lingus in recent months and also has an impact on many of the resources around the European system.

These are a unique set of challenges as Aer Lingus and other airlines ramp up into the summer. I will now explore about what that means for our operations and for some of our customers. The reality is that the operational challenges make it impossible for Aer Lingus to deliver the experience that we would like for some of our customers. The vast majority or more than 98% of flights are operating as planned and the vast majority of customers are getting to their destination as planned. However, we are seeing impacts of the delays in the system. These effects include: queues at check-in areas as passengers arrive early, as we have seen at Dublin Airport, for security screening; delays at security screening, thus passengers are late getting to the aircraft for boarding and departure; delays elsewhere in Europe for passengers with reduced mobility and the airport services provided to get those passengers on and off the aircraft; delays in bussing across the European system in moving passengers and crew around the airports; and delays having an impact on stand availability at airports around Europe for incoming aircraft, which causes knock-on delays. This means that we can start the day ready with crew, aircraft and ground handling resources but as the day progresses we see the following: poor punctuality as all of these issues around the European system play out; customers and their bags miss connecting flights; and as delays compound matters over the course of the day, our crews reach their duty hour limits and that can have an impact on their availability for the next day's rosters. These issues are compounding. Due to all of these factors we must occasionally cancel flights, which leads to further disruption.

In terms of baggage issues, for the point-to-point journeys such as simple journeys like Dublin to Malaga, the vast majority of passengers and bags travel there with no issues at all. Where we see particular problems is with connecting bags. I mean connecting bags that come from big European airports that are experiencing problems. In fact, 60% of the issues that we see with out bags stem from connections from other airlines so interline connections on to Aer Lingus. In many cases, we have never seen nor touched those bags, and those bags do not make it to Dublin to be reunited with the passenger.

The huge increase in the number of misplaced bags across the system puts significant strain on our resources in Dublin. Mr. O'Neill and his team are working incredibly hard to locate bags and reunite them with passengers, as much as we can. They are clearing bags every day but we find more bags are misplaced every day as we continue to operate to these airports that suffer from these problems.

There was a peak of 1,800 open files associated with baggage in mid-June. That figure has now been reduced to 1,200. We are still clearing bags and experiencing further bag problems on a daily basis at the main hub airports of Heathrow, Amsterdam and Paris, in particular.

These issues compound to affect customer experience and customer care. As a consequence of everything I have outlined, our customer call centres are inundated with queries that relate to ticketing, baggage issues, cancellations and missed connections. Over the last four weeks, the volume of calls to our call centres has increased massively in comparison with pre-pandemic levels. The time is it taking agents to deal with each issue has increased fourfold due to the complex nature of customer queries. For the most part, the issues are outside of our control and therefore difficult to resolve for customers. That is resulting in an unprecedented increase in demand on our call centres. Given the volume of demand we are now dealing with, we are unable to provide the level of care we would like to provide for each and every customer who has experienced disruption. As I said, every cancellation and missed bag hurts. We apologise to every customer who has had a less than satisfactory experience. We are doing everything we can to try to mitigate the issues, most of which are outside of our control.

On our schedule, we have leased aircraft and crew to provide extra backup in the case of cancellations and disruption. We have extended connection times between flights to try to minimise the number of bags and customers caught up in delays or having problems making their connecting flights. We have continued to recruit staff. Even though we were ready for the volumes of the summer, the extra disruption issues are putting a further burden on our resources. We have continued to recruit staff in light of the disruption being experienced. We have deployed technology and new processes to try to locate bags. We are using third-party transport operators to try to get bags to customers as quickly as possible. We have added more staff to our call centres. We deploy volunteers from head office and the support areas of the business to the airport every day to try to help our operational teams with the issues and to expedite the resolution of baggage issues, in particular.

I trust this gives members some indication of the challenges that Aer Lingus is facing in what is a very disrupted summer for the industry and the steps we are taking in response to those challenges. As I said, the pressures to which I have referred are pressures in the wider aviation system. Dublin Airport is by no means the only airport at which they exist. Despite the challenges, Aer Lingus is performing strongly in managing the issues that are within our control. We are also doing everything possible to influence and address the many matters that are outside of our control. I reiterate my thanks to Aer Lingus staff, who are going above and beyond to help customers as they work through this very challenging summer.

To conclude on a more positive note, I wish to put the scale of the increase in passenger numbers into context. In June 2021, a mere 300,000 passengers travelled through Dublin Airport. The figure for June 2022 was 2.8 million. While the recovery in traffic has brought many challenges, it is critical to the wider Irish economy.

I invite Mr. Harrison to make his opening remarks.

Mr. Vincent Harrison

I thank the Chairman and members for inviting the DAA to attend today's meeting. When the DAA last appeared before the committee on 1 June, we addressed the very challenging events of Sunday, 29 May, which saw 1,400 passengers miss their flights as a result of lengthy queues at Dublin Airport’s security screening areas. While there is no room for complacency, I am pleased to report that seven weeks on, the airport's security screening processes are now on a far more robust and sustainable footing.

At our meeting with the committee in June, the DAA outlined the substantial capacity challenges we faced as we sought to bridge Dublin Airport’s resourcing gap and meet the demands of a rapid spike in air travel across the globe. We also acknowledged a number of key shortcomings with respect to the airport’s operations on 29 May and laid out our plans to address these challenges and restore confidence for our passengers.

As a result of the implementation of these plans, the wait times at the airport’s security screening areas have now improved significantly. During June, Dublin Airport served more than 2.8 million passengers in total, and more than 90% of all passengers were processed through security in 45 minutes or less. During July, we have continued to see exceptional levels of growth at the airport. Over the full month of July, we expect that the airport will serve almost 3.1 million passengers, an average of 100,000 passengers every day. Despite this rapid growth, further improvements to the airport's security performance have been successfully achieved. To date in July, more than 95% of all passengers have been processed through security in under 45 minutes. More than 85% of passengers have queued for 30 minutes or less. Prudent contingency measures have been put in place by both the DAA and the Government to provide safeguards should any external challenges arise. However, these measures have not been required to date given the operational improvements made.

At present, Dublin Airport continues to advise passengers to arrive 2.5 hours in advance for a short-haul flight and 3.5 hours in advance of a long-haul flight. This advice remains prudent in the current circumstances. As outlined, while positive progress has been achieved with respect to security queue times, we are advising passengers that they should continue to allow up to one hour to clear security screening. In addition, they then need to walk to their gate and board their aircraft. The current advice allows sufficient time for this. If a passenger is checking a bag, this requires additional time. As a result, we continue to advise that, where possible, passengers should allow up to one additional hour where they need to do so. We also recommend that they confirm specific opening times for the airline that they are travelling with. Airlines can also communicate directly with their own intending passengers to provide more tailored advice, should they wish to do so. While the early presentation of passengers remains a feature across the industry, we believe this has arisen as a result of general anxiety levels with respect to international travel. This trend is therefore unlikely to abate until the overall narrative regarding air travel becomes more positive.

The airport’s recruitment programme is also continuing at pace. When the DAA last met the committee, we indicated that we intended to bring a further 70 security officers into our business during June, with no upper limits placed on recruitment in the period beyond. In fact, during June we recruited almost 100 new airport security unit officers. During July, we have brought more than 50 further recruits into the business. This means that since October 2021, we have now delivered a total increase of 356 security staff in our terminals, net of exits. Security staffing levels have almost returned to 2019 levels, while recruitment is continuing. Recruiting, retaining and training such a large number of new staff members to the very high standards required is challenging. This will continue to have our full focus over the weeks and months ahead.

Over the past seven weeks, we have also been engaging very closely with all passengers impacted by the events of 29 May. As of this week, more than 75% of all claims received by the DAA have now either been closed out or are at an advanced stage of processing. Additionally, our teams have put significant focus on improving standards for our passengers across all other areas of the airport. This includes the critical area of cleanliness of airport facilities, where we acknowledge standards have suffered. Through significant engagement with both our teams and third parties, we have now materially increased cleaning resources. This has enabled a series of deep cleans at night and other targeted actions across the terminals. Since we last attended the committee, almost 4,000 further task force shifts have been worked by our management and office-based teams, with more than 500 of these focused specifically on cleaning. In addition, we are working closely with third-party food and beverage concessionaires to enhance their focus on cleaning. We are also placing strong focus on services for our passengers with reduced mobility, and we continue to work very closely with our third-party provider with respect to this area. Our aim is to ensure that these passengers have a positive experience and that service standards are maintained despite the significant volume growth.

The airport clearly still has a journey ahead to rebuild trust with our passengers and to restore all aspects of our operations to the standards that we routinely delivered pre-Covid.

However, it has been very encouraging to see our passengers acknowledge the marked improvement in the airport’s operations in recent months. As a result of the steps taken and the plans in place, we are confident that we will maintain a safe and stable operation and deliver improving standards over the days, weeks and months ahead.

I take this opportunity to express our huge gratitude to all members of our team for their outstanding efforts in delivering these improvements. The passion, commitment and resilience they have shown have been simply incredible. They have shouldered huge responsibility to deliver for the travelling public and have taken strong initial steps to restore pride and trust in Dublin Airport. I also thank the travelling public for their patience and understanding during this period. In particular, I thank them for their very many positive messages of support, both directly and through social media, which have been hugely appreciated by our colleagues across the business.

While airport operations have seen considerable improvements over the past seven weeks, a range of other significant challenges have emerged across the wider international aviation network. This has been reflected in the cancellation of more than 1,000 flights to and from Dublin Airport during July to date. Many of these cancellations have taken place as a result of flight caps imposed at other airports or due to capacity constraints experienced by airlines as a result of Covid-19. Passengers have also experienced a range of other impacts, including luggage delays, both in Ireland and abroad. As the challenges in these areas have intensified, I believe there has been a growing understanding among passengers of just how complex the causes of these issues are. There has also been increased awareness of the respective responsibilities and interdependencies that exist within our industry.

As the committee is aware, as an airport operator, DAA has direct responsibility for the airport’s security operations, the airport infrastructure and the overall experience passengers have within our terminals. As outlined, since the challenges of 29 May, significant work has been undertaken to address the difficulties faced in these areas. While challenges remain, I hope our passengers are now seeing the impact of these actions. However, as an airport operator, DAA does not control areas such as airline flight cancellations or the handling of passengers’ baggage. The responsibility for these specific areas sits with the airlines and their ground handling agents. Similar to DAA, they are taking considerable steps to address the challenges they are currently facing in this respect, which I am sure they will outline to the committee in more detail today.

Passengers are becoming increasingly aware of the global nature of the issues currently facing the sector. There are few countries that have not been impacted by the current challenges. From the UK to Europe, the US, Australia and Asia, the issues relating to flight cancellations, delays and passenger baggage are dominating headlines right across the globe. In recent months, airports such Heathrow, Gatwick, Frankfurt and Amsterdam Schiphol have been forced to implement flight caps as a result of severe challenges faced by their passengers. This in turn has impacted on the holiday and travel plans of millions of people. This is a course of action that we have worked extremely hard to avoid at Dublin Airport. Our aim has been to ensure that our passengers make their flights and get to take that long-awaited and much-deserved holiday. Through the implementation of our plans, we have succeeded in avoiding the types of flight caps and cancellations that are now in place at many other European airports.

Looking forward, the industry will remain challenged over the period ahead. All industry players, including airports, airlines and ground handlers, will need to address their own specific challenges in order to restore the high standards that passengers expect of us all. Ultimately, however, every single player within our industry is united by one key factor - the passengers we serve. If any one element of the ecosystem faces difficulties, whether it is the airport, the airlines, the ground handling services or any other player within the supply chain network, the overall passenger experience is impacted. As a result, industry collaboration will be more important than ever as we look to the future. This is something we are totally committed to over the period ahead.

I thank the committee for extending the invitation to today’s meeting to DAA. I look forward to the discussion.

Mr. Tony Tully

I thank the committee for the opportunity to speak at this meeting. As one of several handlers operating in Dublin, and with around 80% of flights being self-handled by airlines, I must be clear that we are not able to speak on behalf of all ground handlers or the aviation industry as a whole.

While we will outline a number of significant hurdles we have faced as the demand for air travel has returned, Swissport itself has consistently seen good outputs in baggage handling and on-time performance. Some 85% of flights handled by Swissport have left on time or early from Dublin Airport. We acknowledge that this is lower than we would expect and that there is work to be done but we are pleased that we have maintained a stable performance. This has been achievable thanks to the incredible support and flexibility of our employees and the co-operation our customer airlines.

We understand that many passengers travelling through Dublin Airport have had an unacceptable experience over the last few months. While Swissport will always take responsibility and apologise for any occasion where it has played a part in disruption, we are proud that we have managed to deliver for our customers despite some very challenging circumstances. Swissport has put significant effort, finance and planning into our readiness for the summer at Dublin, bringing in over 300 additional employees so far this year. This has meant we have been able to provide additional handling support and requests within the airport, outside of initial programs of work and schedules. This is one example of how we all, across the industry and in government, need to continue working together so passengers can fly with confidence. We have also used the global Swissport network, as the largest provider of ground handling services worldwide, to fly in experienced and highly trained personnel from other Swissport locations across Europe to support the skills and experience gap. There have been a number of hurdles in reaching this position.

It is important to remember that the pandemic had a severe impact on the aviation industry, worse than any in living memory. Globally, aviation was brought nearly to a standstill. Aviation experts across the board predicted that it would take years to recover. It is positive news that flight volumes are now returning but this rapid return in demand, after long uncertainty, has exacerbated resource challenges across the board in aviation. While we are pleased that in Ireland, thanks to a collaborative process with our trade union partners and being able to make use of the pandemic unemployment payment scheme, we were able to hold off redundancies. However, two years of travel bans and restrictions have resulted in many knowledgeable and experienced employees making a tough choice to leave the sector for more stable employment.

Also in Ireland, the newly introduced enhanced background checks in January 2022 resulted in a complete standstill in the approval and issuing of airport ID passes, effectively resulting in no employees being recruited in the first three months of the year. Approvals now take an average of around four weeks but we have found some prospective recruits cannot wait for the time it takes for this process to be completed. Security checks are of course vital to the safety of all airport users but we must be clear that this has delayed our ability to effectively train and deploy new employees. In the UK, we have been able to use temporary escorted passes to enable new employees to support operations and complete essential training. However, this was not an option in Ireland until recently. We and other airline partners lobbied the DAA and the Department of Transport to consider making use of this initiative. It is a key opportunity to provide an immediate injection of critical manpower while waiting for security checks to be completed.

A key part of the ramp operations role is being able to drive the airport vehicles used to transport luggage to and from the aircraft and terminal buildings. However, with the rules brought in by the Department of Transport and the National Driver Licence Service, NDLS, preventing non-EU licenceholders from driving for work purposes on airport grounds, we have a significant deficit of equipment operators at Dublin Airport. With a wait of between three and four months for the Irish driving examinations these workers are required to complete, they will not be fully utilised until Christmas 2022. This will continue to impact operations until then.

These issues, combined with knock-on delays from other parts of the journey, such as security, check-in, baggage, flight schedules and air traffic, have led to very challenging conditions over the last few months across the UK and Ireland. At Dublin Airport we have specifically seen an adverse impact from the significant queues at security, continued volatility in flight schedules and infrastructure challenges. The short-shipped baggage volumes in Dublin for Swissport and handled by Swissport have remained very low and within normal parameters. We have helped where we can to tackle the disruption caused by short-shipping from the major hubs that feed into Dublin. Ultimately, baggage is one of the more visual parts of the complex process behind every flight. People should understand that because of its position at the end of the process, it is often the baggage handlers who have to absorb the knock-on effects of delays further up the chain, so they are already facing a delay before they get to start on their part of the process. This is not to deflect blame onto any one party but a reminder that aviation can be viewed as an ecosystem where delays in one part combine and escalate to cause delays in another part. It is not just about how quickly baggage is loaded on and off the aircraft. Nevertheless, we reiterate that despite the challenges outlined, Swissport’s own operations have held up remarkably well. Our preparations have resulted in us being in a strong enough position to support our airline partners, as previously described, with our staff working extremely hard with these partners to minimise the impact on passengers.

I must be clear that we can only speak for our own operations and remain proud that we have been in a position to provide this additional support at Dublin Airport and minimise disruption. We will continue to work with industry partners and the Government to facilitate long-awaited flights for passengers so they can be assured of a smooth experience.

Mr. Darren Moloney

I thank the Chairman and members for inviting Sky Handling Partner, SHP, to appear. SHP provides third-party ground handling services to airlines at Dublin Airport. The observations and opinions my colleague, Mr. Kenny, and I will offer are solely those of the company; they are not expressed on behalf of airlines, other ground handling agents or any other airport community member.

During the pandemic, it was appropriate and entirely justified that public health was prioritised. The restrictions imposed on international travel resulted in a 75% reduction in our activity at Dublin Airport. Inevitably, a contraction in our workforce took place as valued teams members opted to seek employment in industries they considered more secure. The exodus of skilled experience and expertise in 2020 and 2021 will take time to replenish but robust progress is being made.

SHP is mindful and conscious of the travel experience of passengers at Dublin Airport this year. The rapid rebound in international travel has presented significant challenges for aviation globally. Dublin has been no exception in this regard. Our service standards simply have not returned to the pre-pandemic level. On-time performance sits 25% below where it was pre-pandemic. SHP accepts and acknowledges responsibility for shortcomings in our performance standards in 2022 and sincerely apologises where this has resulted in disruption and inconvenience for passengers.

As a company, we have invested substantial resources to increase our workforce, with financial incentives to promote recruitment and retention. Post pandemic, it is critical that ground handling can attract the best and brightest to our industry. I am pleased that SHP has managed to recruit 280 employees who are either live on current operations or due to complete training within the next fortnight.

It is important to point out the difficulties associated with recruitment in the first three months of 2022 due to the implementation of the EU regulation in respect of enhanced security background checks. Although security and safety are paramount in any airport environment, the processing time to perform these additional checks was excessive, with it taking several weeks for airport IDs to be completed, ensuring there was no material uplift in resource levels for quarter 1 of 2022. Formal correspondence was sent to the Department of Transport and An Garda Síochána on 10 March, outlining our concerns and referencing the potential impact on operations at Dublin Airport this year. The current airport ID processing time has reduced to three to four weeks, which is a more reasonable and manageable timeframe, and this is to be welcomed. The recent increase in airport escort IDs, to 14 days, provides an opportunity for our new employees to undertake additional airside training. Again, this is to be welcomed and acknowledged as an example of relevant stakeholders working together to address the unique challenges for summer 2022.

A source of frustration as we embark on a significant upskilling programme of current staff is the number of non-EU licence holders who are restricted from driving at the airport. A key element of our operation is having sufficient numbers of drivers trained to operate vehicles that ferry passenger baggage and cargo to and from the aircraft side. It is important that the Department of Transport and the National Driver Licence Service, NDLS, revisit these restrictions as this would immediately provide a large increase in the driving pool available to SHP.

Short-shipped baggage volumes from international hubs that feed Dublin Airport have been at an unprecedented scale and continue to prove extremely challenging. Some European airports have imposed passenger or flight caps to minimise disruption for the remainder of the summer season. Likewise, there has been curtailment of certain airline schedules and it is expected that this will help alleviate, but not eliminate, the instances of short-shipped baggage.

In the meantime, SHP, with the support of DAA, has managed to secure a landside location adjacent to terminals 1 and 2. This location enables us to move baggage to a secure site where our teams can work on processing bags for local delivery by courier, or reflighting if necessary. More important, it also permits passengers to attend and claim lost baggage directly. This is a critical development as passenger access to airside locations is limited by security protocols. In addition, airlines are extensively supporting the repatriation of baggage by sending support teams to Dublin.

SHP has a strong and proud record of achievement through the past two decades. We are a proactive and valued member of the airport community and have engaged constructively with all relevant stakeholders to mitigate the impact of disruption at Dublin Airport this year. We are committed to contributing to an improved passenger experience at Dublin Airport. It is important that I publicly commend the effort, flexibility and commitment demonstrated by SHP front-line staff and support teams in recent months. I am very proud of each and every one of them. Equally, I am grateful for the excellent collaboration and partnership of our airline customers during these exceptional times.

I thank Mr. Moloney. We will now move to questions. Members will have ten minutes each. There is a significant number of members present, which is great. The ten-minute slot is for questions from members and answers from the witnesses. In the interest of clarity, I ask members and witnesses to keep their questions or answers as brief as possible. The travelling public has come to us with queries and we are duty bound to follow up on those queries. We have a rota system and I am first up this week.

I will come to the witnesses in the order they gave their opening statements. I want to deal with matters in real time. We are fast approaching the bank holiday weekend. Does Aer Lingus have an indication at this stage whether flights to or from Dublin, Cork or Shannon airports will be cancelled? When will that be made known? How does Aer Lingus contact passengers in such situations? Can they get alternative flights? If so, how quickly can that be done?

I ask Ms Embleton to deal with the impact of the Heathrow cap. Obviously, there are Heathrow routes to Dublin, but also to Shannon and Cork, and some of those flights have been cancelled recently. She referred to the Heathrow cap being mandatory. We are hearing that some airlines are ignoring the mandatory nature of the cap. I ask her to feed that into the response of Aer Lingus in those areas.

During the pandemic, Aer Lingus gave vouchers to passengers. We have received queries from the public on this and our understanding is that the vouchers can only be used on flights out of Ireland and in euro currency. Will Aer Lingus consider, post pandemic, that the vouchers could be used on any Aer Lingus flight into or out of Ireland, or elsewhere, and in a currency other than euro?

Ms Lynne Embleton

I will hand over to Mr. O'Neill to address the readiness for the bank holiday weekend. As regards cancellations, we always try to give customers as much notice as possible. When we have to make mandatory cancellations, we make that public and contact customers as soon as we can. There are occasions when we have more short-notice cancellations, which are typically sickness-related. In such circumstances, we are unable to give customers as much notice but, every time, we try to accommodate customers, put them onto other airlines and-----

Does Aer Lingus have many staff out sick with Covid at the moment?

Ms Lynne Embleton

We do have some sickness. Sickness levels have been running at approximately four times what they were in 2019. As I stated, we have had more resources than normal but that extra buffer gets eaten into. Our sickness level is tracking consistently with the level of Covid cases in Ireland more generally. The majority of cancellations are not caused by that but, rather, by the restrictions put in place by other airports. In such cases, we try to give customers as much notice as possible.

Of course, we are in the summer peak-----

So it is not Covid-19 then? Is it primarily the Heathrows and Schiphols and the restrictions being put in place there?

Ms Lynne Embleton

That has been the major cause over the past few months but Covid-19 does play a part. Those cancellations are caused by Aer Lingus. It is typically crew sickness driven by Covid-19.

What percentage of flights have been cancelled because of Covid-19?

Ms Lynne Embleton

I would say less than half. As the Covid-19 wave comes down, we expect those cancellations to come down as well.

What impact have Heathrow's actions had on Shannon, Cork and Dublin airports? Heathrow's cap is going to be in place until the end of October. What impact will that have on Heathrow flights out of Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports?

Ms Lynne Embleton

We are complying with the demands from Heathrow and Amsterdam airports to reduce flights. This is frustrating for us. We have sold those flights. We have customers who have made their plans around those flights. We are complying where we need to take flights out. The majority of the flights we have taken out have been Dublin flights, not Cork and Shannon. We have had to take out some from Cork and Shannon. When we look at this problem we look at how many customers are affected, how we can rebook customers ideally on the same day to get them to their destination, how many connecting passengers are involved in that and indeed the slots at the various airports, which are key for us going into next summer to make sure that we retain the slots that we have. They are the factors that-----

Will Aer Lingus Heathrow connections continue to be cancelled up to the end of October from Dublin, Cork and Shannon?

Ms Lynne Embleton

We have slightly less visibility of the extent of those cancellations going into the full season.

Will Ms Embleton give us an indication?

Ms Lynne Embleton

We have more visibility of the near-term cancellations-----

How many flights are being cancelled between now and the end of the bank holiday weekend?

Mr. Peter O'Neill

It is impossible to say that now. In regard to the Heathrow cancellations that are mandated, we are working through those on a planned basis to give customers as much notice as possible.

What is meant by "as much" notice? How long in advance is notice given?

Mr. Peter O'Neill

The mandate literally only came out a number of days ago from Heathrow so we will process that as quickly as possible. It requires some over and back with the Heathrow authorities to understand it and to make sure that we are not taking more than our fair share. We will work through that detail as quickly as possible and advise it out. The last thing we want is cancellations on the day because that causes more disruption.

Is Mr. O'Neill saying that there will be more cancellations on the Heathrow route from Dublin, Cork and Shannon between now and the end of October?

Mr. Peter O'Neill

There will be, yes.

Will Mr. O'Neill outline the cancellations of other flights, including the Heathrow flights, between now and the end of the bank holiday weekend as it approaches?

Mr. Peter O'Neill

As we stand right now all our flights are planned and crewed with standbys in place for the weekend. We reached our peak schedule on 7 July with the addition of the Seattle route. Barring the normal disruption that may occur within the operation we expect to operate the vast majority of our flights. We will see that in the very high-----

No, Mr. O'Neill. I accept that and you have come back and said it is 1% or 2% of flights out of the total number. However, at the same time for customers, so that people will be aware, will flights be cancelled between now and the approaching bank holiday weekend?

Mr. Peter O'Neill

I am not trying to avoid the question. Our plan is to operate the full schedule. We have taken in additional capacity crewed by other airlines to support our operations.

Is the intention of Aer Lingus that there will be no cancellations for the bank holiday weekend?

Mr. Peter O'Neill

Our intention is for no cancellations. I cannot give an absolute guarantee on it. We will do everything to avoid cancellations.

Extra flight resources have been brought in for the approaching bank holiday.

Mr. Peter O'Neill

We have brought in additional capacity to support our operation.

Will Mr. Harrison advise how busy the bank holiday weekend will be in Dublin Airport?

Mr. Vincent Harrison

The bank holiday weekend will be equivalently busy as the past number of weekends. For example, on Friday and on Monday, which are the two busiest days, we expect there will be in the region of 105,000 passengers through. In fact, there were 104,000 passengers last Monday and about the same last Friday. While I think people naturally associate bank holiday weekends with additional throughput and perhaps travel throughout the country, we do not anticipate it being materially different to what we have been facing for a number of weeks now.

Second, has Mr. Harrison called in the Defence Forces to date? Will he call them in over the bank holiday weekend?

Mr. Vincent Harrison

No, we have not. The Defence Forces have gone through training to enable them to be capable of being deployed. There has been no requirement to deploy them. The protocols we have in place to count down to what might be expected to be a deployment are nowhere near the triggers.

What are they?

Mr. Vincent Harrison

They have been a high level of absences, which we anticipated would be driven by Covid-19. Those absence levels have not materialised to date.

What would they be?

Mr. Vincent Harrison

When we faced the Omicron situation, we were well in excess of 25% to 30% staff absence particularly in our security screening areas.

Is that what was agreed in terms of the Defence Forces?

Mr. Vincent Harrison

That is broadly what we agreed - if we were approaching those levels.

What are the levels at the moment?

Mr. Vincent Harrison

Less than 10%.

Ms Embleton put a charge regarding the cleanliness and services around the airport. What does Mr. Harrison say to that?

Mr. Vincent Harrison

In our own statement I addressed them-----

This is common, we hear it from the public as well. We accept that there have been a lot of improvements. We are on record on that point. This is coming up with the public quite a lot.

Mr. Vincent Harrison

I think there is a common theme throughout each of the statements that nobody is satisfied with the level of service overall that is being provided and we are not satisfied with the general level of service that is being provided in such as areas as cleanliness. However, as we committed to in our previous session, we have focused in particular on the highest priority areas. In the early stages, that was ensuring that people did not miss flights. Progressively we have been in a position to improve and we continue to do so, particularly in regard to cleaning. Again the focus has been on the highest priority but we have been in a position to allocate far more resources recently.

Is the number of staff nearly at 2019 levels? Is DAA continuing to recruit? How many additional staff will be recruited? What is the expected waiting time for passengers coming through on the bank holiday weekend?

Mr. Vincent Harrison

In regard to recruitment what we talked about in terms of continuing recruitment has been specifically in the area of security screening. Our staff complement is in and around the 2019 level. We are continuing to recruit.

How many?

Mr. Vincent Harrison

In total in terms of our security-----

Security is 356; what is the total?

Mr. Vincent Harrison

It is approximately 800.

What is the expected number?

Mr. Vincent Harrison

We have not put an upper limit on our recruitment and we continue to recruit and train our staff. As has been commented in other areas it takes a period of time to get people through their training programme.

Finally, how long is it expected a passenger will be waiting? How long on average will it take a passenger to get through the airport?

Mr. Vincent Harrison

The statistics I quoted were that more than 90% of people take less than 45 minutes and more than 80% take less than 30 minutes and we expect that will continue throughout the weekend's activities.

I turn to Mr. Tully. Regarding the Irish operations at Dublin Airport, how many passengers are waiting to recover their luggage from Dublin Airport?

Mr. Tony Tully

Less than 100.

When does Mr. Tully expect to have pulled those down?

Mr. Tony Tully

We expect the majority of them to be done within the next week.

Will Mr. Maloney answer the same question for SHP? How many people are currently awaiting outstanding baggage at Dublin Airport?

Mr. Darren Moloney

The current bag count at Dublin Airport is 2,897.

Does Mr. Moloney appreciate that is a very high figure?

Mr. Darren Moloney

I do, indeed. It reflects the fact that we have many operations that deal with some of these hub airports that have really struggled over the past several months.

Who would they be? Is it such airlines as Aer Lingus?

Mr. Darren Moloney

It is Amsterdam-----

That is with Aer Lingus.

Mr. Darren Moloney

It is Frankfurt, in the Americas and also Toronto.

What plans are in place to pull that back? How long will it take?

Mr. Darren Moloney

We have the ability to process 350 bags a day. The difficulty we have is that short-shipping continues on a daily basis. We are still receiving on average about 270 bags.

SHP receives 270 lost bags per day. How many lost bags are coming in?

Mr. Tony Tully

It fluctuates, but it can be anything from 50 to 250 depending on what is happening.

The problem is that there are 270 and Sky Handling Partners can process 350. Does that mean only 60 bags per day can be pulled back? Dividing 2,897 by 60 leaves a serious number of days.

Mr. Darren Moloney

This in unprecedented. In terms of the resources we have put into this, we have a secure landside location now where passengers can attend to collect bags. We have to fly bags out of Dublin to get them out of the airport, and we do local deliveries. We are putting additional resources in place to expand the opening times for that off-site location in order that passengers-----

We have limited time. I make it that 48 days will be required to get 2,897 lost bags back to their owners. Surely there is a case to be made for putting extra resources in place? Forty eight days is virtually a month and a half.

Mr. Darren Moloney

We have been putting those resources in place over the past several months in order to gear up. It is difficult because of the airports that are short-tripping into Dublin. That is why we have put these resources in place. We also expect the restrictions imposed at the likes of Charles de Gaulle Airport, Frankfurt and Toronto, will also assist us downstream.

Does the 2,897 represent bags or passengers?

Mr. Darren Moloney

That is bags.

It is bags. Let us assume it is one bag per passenger. How long will those people be waiting to get their bags back?

Mr. Darren Moloney

It will take us two weeks to clear the bags we have on-site.

Two weeks. We ask that extra resources be put in place.

Mr. Darren Moloney

Every attempt has been made being made to do that. We have worked with the DAA to secure the premises I mentioned earlier.

I now move to members. I call on Deputy Ó Murchú, who has nine minutes and then one.

A significant number of the questions I intended to pose have probably been answered. People are obviously being impacted greatly. Anybody who has been in the airport recently has seen the stacked up baggage. Even when you make a flight, it is generally late. You make the connecting flight on the basis that it is also late. I accept that there is an international dimension to all of this.

If we could deal with Aer Lingus first. The initial problem started before Heathrow had put the cap in place. Could Ms Embleton explain what caused the problem at that stage? Was it largely cases of Covid-19 among the staff of the airline? Ms Embleton stated that there is an impact in the context of Heathrow and Amsterdam. I am assuming that she cannot really tell what the problem is until it occurs. What sort of timeframe does she have in the context of making decisions?

Ms Lynne Embleton

The Deputy is absolutely right that the Heathrow-mandated cancellations have been a more recent event. However, the problems across aviation have been ramping up over the summer. There have been one or two extraordinary events, such as the baggage system failures at Heathrow's terminal 2, where we operate, and in Amsterdam. These caused particular spikes.

We started the summer with enough aeroplanes, crew and ground staff to allow us to be ready for a normal summer, with some extra disruption. The flight departs, it picks up delays because of the need to wait for customers to get through screening and for passengers with restricted mobility to come off aircraft. It also picks up delays because stands at other airports are congested. Those delays mean that passengers miss connections, and crew have extended hours and can come up against their duty limits. The delays have been prevalent all the way through the summer and it is those delays that have started to impact significantly on our operations. I come back to the point that the vast majority of our customers are still travelling with their bags. It is only in the case of a small number of passengers that the process gets disrupted. However, when it gets disrupted, it does hurt. This has been increasing as the summer has progressed and has culminated in the mandated cancellations from Amsterdam and Heathrow.

From the bit of flying I have done, I have seen many more people taking bags on board because they do not want to risk losing them. Is Ms Embleton saying that the majority of problems with lost baggage relate to connecting flights and have not been caused by Aer Lingus's operations?

Ms Lynne Embleton

That is absolutely right. In the context of the vast majority of simple journeys with Aer Lingus, customers and bags travel successfully. The main issue relates to the transferring of bags, in particular from other carriers to Aer Lingus. That is where we are at the end of the chain trying to deliver those bags to the customers. As stated earlier, in many cases we may not have touched those bags. They are likely to be in a European airport elsewhere. The vast majority of Aer Lingus point-to-point bags and customers travel successfully.

Aer Lingus customer care is under severe pressure at this point because people are approaching it. What is the position regarding the number of bags of Aer Lingus customers that have gone missing? Mr. Moloney stated that his company can pull back approximately 60 bags on a daily basis. How many can Aer Lingus deal with?

Ms Lynne Embleton

I will ask Mr. O'Neill to comment on the bag numbers. From a customer care perspective and a call centre perspective, we have added 40% more resources in the past few months to our call centres in order to try to cope with the-----

What sort of numbers?

Ms Lynne Embleton

We have added hundreds of resources to our call centres.

Is that staff?

Ms Lynne Embleton


Can Ms Embleton quantify the number of staff involved?

Ms Lynne Embleton

I can check the number, but it is in the hundreds. We have added hundreds of agents in order to try to deal with customer queries. Given delays, cancellations and baggage, the volume of customer queries has increased. The time it is taking to try to resolves those queries has increased. They are not simple to resolve because they are out of our control in many cases. The overall demand on our call centres and customer care has therefore increased manyfold. Even though we are adding resources, we simply cannot respond to every customer in the timely way that we would like.

Mr. Peter O'Neill

We try to shift the vast majority of bags that come in as quickly as possible. The real dilemma is the ones are ageing, that have come in having being mishandled some time ago in some cases, and often arriving to us with very little information. The procedure is that the bag is rushed from one airport to another. In doing that, the bag arrives but some of the original documentation can go astray. That means it turns into a bit of detective work and the processing time around that gets quite involved. The other industry-wide problem is because, as some of the other contributors have pointed out, the industry generally is under strain so the information coming from other airports and handlers around bags that they have on hand, is quite constrained. They are not necessarily getting to update systems. We may have a bag in Dublin and we are looking for the details of it. If the missing bag report has not been filled elsewhere, we have nothing to trace that against-----

I accept that there are difficulties. Does Mr. O'Neill have any notion of the number of bags that are missing or the number for which owners cannot be found?

Mr. Peter O'Neill

As indicated earlier, we have approximately 1,200 open files that we are working through. Not dissimilarly, on a given day, we are processing bags in the hundreds. We can have other bags appear into Dublin Airport to add to that volume. We have put significant addition resources in place to deal with that in order to try and get bags back to people as quickly as possible.

Mr. Donal Moriarty

On quantification, in the past month alone we have added 90 additional contact centre staff to deal with the increased volumes of calls.

Does the figure of 1,200 refer to people or bags?

Mr. Peter O'Neill

It is files, so it could be slightly more in bags. Generally, it is one per person.

What is the airline's capacity per day to handle bags at Dublin Airport?

Mr. Peter O'Neill

We have handled up to 700 on some days but we generally process about 500-----

Typically, how many come in a day?

Mr. Peter O'Neill

Unfortunately, as many can come in a day. Probably slightly less on average, so approximately 450.

Aer Lingus's capacity to pull back the older ones is limited at the moment.

Mr. Peter O'Neill

It is limited, but we have added additional resources. We are moving forward.

I will go back to Deputy Ó Murchú.

Another thing that will be happening is people making contact with the airline regarding cancelled flights. I am particularly interested in cases where people are trying to fly to and from a destination, either on the same day or over two days.

They are rebooked but, unfortunately, sometimes they are rebooked when the event is over. What is the rebooking policy? How is it working at this point in time? Maybe the situation is dealt with whereby someone who is going for a two-week stay is delayed a number of hours but in some cases a huge number of people will be put out.

Mr. Peter O'Neill

Obviously where somebody has been discommoded through a cancellation, then he or she has full EU261 rights and we will try to re-accommodate them on the next immediate service as quickly as possible. Where we have cancelled flights we have deployed a tool for this summer, which automatically rebooks the customer on the best availability for that. Given that we are in the peak summer then that next availability can be quite limited and obviously that is a concern.

I imagine that there are no plans to cap the number of people travelling into Dublin Airport at this point in time. Is the DAA considering anything like that?

Mr. Vincent Harrison


It has been said before that by the time the DAA has a full complement of staff, it would be around mid-August when it would become fully operationally sound. Is that still the case?

Mr. Vincent Harrison

Broadly, yes. We have to respond to changes in demand levels but demand has pretty much stabilised at this point.

Does Mr. Harrison think that the DAA will make it through the rest of the summer while accepting that there will be difficulties?

Mr. Vincent Harrison

We are quite confident that we will maintain the level of service we are delivering at the moment.

Mr. Tully and Mr. Moloney spoke about solutions such as the temporary escort passes and the licensing issue and getting non-EU licences for some of their workers to enable them to work. What interaction has there been with the Department of Transport and the NDLS on anything close to a solution? I ask because I imagine that we have some agreements with some non-EU countries.

Mr. Darren Moloney

On escort IDs, we have had that extended from three up to 14 days, which allows for additional specific training on equipment for our ramps, which was critical and a welcome development.

Is that sufficient?

Mr. Darren Moloney

It is different from what the UK offers, which is up to a 90-day escort pass and that reflects the circumstances in which they find themselves in from a ground handling perspective. Ours is an improvement and we would like more. We would like ours to reflect what the UK has done because there are similar challenges.

I imagine that Mr. Tully will say the same about that.

Mr. Tony Tully

Exactly, yes.

I would like an answer to my question about the licence issue.

Ms Lorraine Daly

We have put in a request to the Dublin Airport ID Centre. We get a lot of applications from non-nationals for roles such as baggage handling and driving. Essentially, they have driver's licences, for example, from Brazil and Mexico, and they are here due to having a stamp 2 immigration permission. They can work full time during the summer and they can drive on national roads but not in the airport even though it is deemed to be a national road, which is a bone of contention and one we are trying to address through the Department of Transport. The Airport Identification Card or AIC centre as it is known said, "No, that the matter is not signed off", and referred the matter to safety in the DAA, which came back and said, "No, these people are not permitted to drive".

These people can drive on national roads outside of the airport.

Ms Lorraine Daly

As we understand it, yes, and for up to a year.

That sounds like another issue. I have somebody from the North who is trying to get a taxi licence in the South and could not at this point in time but one would want to see the answer that was received. We need to chase up this matter as these are obvious fixes that can improve the situation at Dublin Airport and I acknowledge that this is not a perfect situation.

Ms Lorraine Daly

Certainly if we had between 100 and 120 drivers all of a sudden then it would have a tremendous impact.

I ask the organisation to please give us concrete details of its interactions and we will follow up the matter, as a committee.

Ms Lorraine Daly

Yes. Wonderful, thank you.

Deputy Ó Murchú has made a good proposal. I call Senator Craughwell and he has ten minutes.

To put things in context, since early May I have taken four flights out of the country and returned.

I want to put it on record the fact that the experience from the worst time to the best time has been much better in Ireland than in other parts of Europe. I also want to put on record the work of the DAA. I am absolutely blown away by how quickly the DAA has dealt with the problems and queues for getting through security. My experience the first time was such that I had to wait about two and half hours to get through fast track and through security and last Saturday, 16 July, I went through fast track in 15 minutes and left myself sitting in the airport for three and half hours as a result so the DAA is doing a great job. However, and there is always an "however", a great job has been done on security but the cleanliness is diabolical in every corner of the airport and something must be done. The food situation is also diabolical and something must be done. I understand that with the massive numbers of people arriving early and hanging around the airport that these are challenging areas for the organisation but I know that the DAA will step up to the plate. At the worst of times my experience of Dublin Airport was comparable with what I experienced in London and at Berlin airport in Germany.

I wish to say to all of the delegations that the interaction with staff has been amazing. All staff have been under huge pressure yet I have never been met with anything but good humour and people willing to push themselves the extra bit both on the ground and in the air. I compliment all the people involved.

I do not have a huge number of dealings with baggage staff other than I get back any baggage that I did put in, which is the important thing for me. I will deal with the issue in a couple of minutes.

I assume that the DAA will bring in somebody to deal with the cleaning and food issues. I appreciate that people must deal with very large numbers but the DAA must do something.

Mr. Vincent Harrison

We have already augmented the staff and taken a number of measures, particularly in terms of enhanced deep cleaning. As the Senator will appreciate, with the volumes of people in each of the areas, particularly airside, and the fact that previously the airport operated without people airside for the early hours of the morning, we now have people on the premises at all times, so that situation has really got in the way of our ability to deliver some of those services, in addition to resource constraints. Those constraints are being alleviated but by no means eliminated. I believe that having had our intense focus on the security issues, which were a major concern to our ability to maintain operations and I thank the Senator for his comments about our response to those, we are absolutely turning our energies to each of the areas in which standards are not at the level at which we would like.

On 30 June, I was at terminal 2 for a number of hours because I had family going through the airport in different groups. I observed the queues for Aer Lingus flights and observed families with young children who were 25 minutes in the queue. The Aer Lingus staff checked them in straightaway because they recognised that it is difficult to keep children controlled and I give the staff full compliments for that action. However, on Sunday afternoon I had to sit in terminal 2 for quite some period and during that time I observed the noticeboard for arrivals, and observed how quickly bags were moving. One would see when bags got on to the belt, when they were delivered and when the flight was closed. For the Malaga flight that arrived at 19:09, the bags were cleared at 20:25.

That is almost an hour and a half. It is a long time to be hanging around for a bag. It is not as long as Mr. Tully’s and Mr. Moloney’s staff are waiting for bags, but it is a long time to be hanging around.

On missed flights, if I miss a flight, say, to London with Aer Lingus and the next flight out is full, do they take somebody off that flight and let me in or must I wait until there is a vacant slot?

Mr. Peter O'Neill

Essentially, the Senator would be waiting until there is a vacant slot on the flight. As soon as there is capacity available, we would try to recover the customer.

Customers will be waiting a long time because most of Aer Lingus’s flights are well full these days, from what I can see.

Mr. Darren Moloney

Unfortunately, the effect of the mandated reductions has been that back capacity is being further reduced.

I refer to baggage handling, which applies to DAA as well. We went through a two-year period where we had to deal with Covid. Out of all the governments in Europe - I am not a member of the Government party - the Irish Government laid on significant supports for companies to retain staff. I do not accept that staff went off and found new or better jobs, because there was nowhere to go to get a better job. I think the witnesses’ strategy was wrong with respect to laying off people or making people redundant. I want to ask DAA representatives whether they would accept that strategy was wrong and whether in the future they need to think more long-term in respect of staff retention.

We might start with Mr. Tully and Mr. Moloney and then go on to Mr. Harrison.

Mr. Tony Tully

Given the circumstances at the time, we made the right decisions. As I said, we did not enforce any redundancies. We looked to keep everybody on board. However, cargo and logistics is very aligned to our business and that is where many people went. They went into cargo and logistics because there was a high demand and they could pick up extra hours. Some 80% of our business disappeared during Covid, so that is the same impact it had on our staff then as well.

Mr. Darren Moloney

Similar to Swissport, we lost 75% of our pre-pandemic activity. We also lost permanent business as well, such as the collapse of Flybe just the before the pandemic in February 2020. Some operation just pulled out of Dublin completely. There was obviously Stobart in 2021 as well. We lost permanent business that was not potentially coming back after the pandemic. Therefore, there as an element of downsizing with that. However, we retained a core group of staff. We retained them above-wing at 100% and below-wing we retained a core group with key skills for us. However, some individuals took the opportunity to look at the industry and move. Another reason for that is we were potentially opening, getting airline schedules coming in that looked quite strong and then we were getting cancellations because of restrictions in place in Ireland and in different jurisdictions around Europe as well. It was very hard for us to give any certainty to our staff and tell them in two or three months we will essentially be back to pre-pandemic times and, therefore, individuals made decisions and exited the business.

Mr. Vincent Harrison

When we were here last time our chief executive said that had we known then what we know now, we might have made different decisions. I will not dispute that. However, during the pandemic, there were many months in which we were operating with fewer passengers in the month than we might process during the three hours of the committee meeting today. Particularly, in areas such as security screening, when there are no passengers travelling, there is literally no work to be done. The people who left our organisation left by means of voluntary redundancy. Nobody was required to leave the organisation.

I wish to make one last point. The Chair mentioned the Defence Forces. As a former member of the Defence Forces and one that was nominated to the Seanad by the Defence Forces, among others, I take grave exception to the Defence Forces being requested to go in and dig these organisations out of a hole. I fully understand the needs of the public and the needs of the airport to maintain itself. I know it was not the witnesses who invited the Defence Forces in. They went to the Minister, who asked his colleague, the Minister for Defence, to provide the Defence Forces. I just think it is an insult to the Defence Forces.

That is not what they are in this country for. That is not their role and we should never let that happen again. I have said it now and gotten it off my chest.

Mr. Harrison is informing us that he expects the Defence Forces will not be required.

I sincerely hope they will not, but they should never have been asked. I will leave it at that.

I thank our visitors for their presentation. It has been very informative and it brought us up to date. It was important that we had this meeting. It has also given our visitors the opportunity to convey to the public how the airport works. The DAA was taking the brunt of everybody’s criticism. Everybody thought it was the cause of all the problems at the airport. Obviously, the running of the airport and the aviation industry is a complex operation. There is a level of interdependency and collaboration that makes the system work. As we have heard, I think the public is now more aware, because they never been under more scrutiny. There has been huge media attention. As a result of that, people now understand how the system works.

In terms of the collaboration, it is at a high level at this time because everyone has to work together to overcome the difficulties that are there. What is the hierarchy? Is there a system or are there procedures in place? Do the witnesses meet regularly? Do the heads of each group meet? How do they, in a normal course when the airport is running well, interact? Is there a formal procedure or is it simply a case of acting or connecting with each other when it is necessary?

When we had the DAA in last time, we had many prophecies about doom and gloom. The DAA responded splendidly. It did an exceptionally good job under difficult circumstances. I have been through the airport on a number of occasions and the arrangements that were put in place as a result of the overcrowding and delays have worked particularly well. It would not have worked without the focus and concentration of the workforce. Going through the airport, one sees the same people doing the same job. It is so repetitive. They have to remain in good humour and handle so many different people. Obviously, the public gets agitated and it is not an easy job. Today, we should compliment them on the work they are doing and hope that they continue to do that.

It was mentioned that 2.8 million passengers went through the airport in June. Many of them had baggage. We got the answers regarding how much baggage has been delayed and what have you. We have here today Swissport, SHP and Aer Lingus. What proportion of baggage is handled by whom? How much of the business is handled by Swissport, SHP and the airlines themselves, respectively?

At Dublin Airport.

Yes, at Dublin Airport.

In terms of ID, that is a problem every year. We are always encountering a problem with the processing of identification and clearance with the vetting office. The vetting office happens to be in my constituency and it is under enormous pressure. The workload continues to increase. It is high time that our committee brought in the Garda and the Department of Transport and had a full and open discussion about the vetting process and the resources required so that these people can get an adequate response. It is so frustrating to have people trained and ready to go and then not be able to put them on the job because they are waiting for ID. This committee needs to take that on. I mentioned it previously and I think we have to do it at an early date.

On the claims that have been made, it was mentioned that 75% of the claims have been addressed. Can our witnesses give us an indication of what those claims involved? Obviously, they were for tickets. Were there hotels involved? What is the estimated cost? The witnesses have now got through that process. What is the estimated cost and what has been the cost to date in settling those claims with the public who were discommoded as a result of a breakdown in the system?

Is that to do with baggage or Aer Lingus flights?

It is both Aer Lingus flights and baggage.

In their response, I ask witnesses for Sky Handling Partner, Swissport and Aer Lingus to indicate the percentage of baggage handling they deal with that goes through Dublin Airport. Perhaps we will start with Ms Embleton, followed by Mr. Tully and Mr. Moloney. Ms Daly may wish to address the clearance and vetting question.

Ms Lynne Embleton

Aer Lingus accounts for between 30% and 40% of the operations of Dublin Airport. The DAA may have a more accurate figure on the exact customer numbers and their breakdown. I expect Aer Lingus accounts for more than one third of the airport's operations.

Disruption is certainly an expense for us this year. We are compensating passengers for bags, cancellations and delays, and that cost is running into millions of euro. On the question around the procedures and collaboration across the airport, first and foremost, the collaboration is within our teams. Are we ready and joined up across all aspects of our operation? We have regular meetings with the DAA, which Mr. O'Neill can elaborate on, and we also have meetings and dialogue with our airline partners with which we have codeshare and connecting flights. There is collaboration across the system and with other airports. We have said a lot of these issues are driven by major hubs around Europe. Those airports will bring airline and handler community calls and all the players together to discuss the issues. This is quite often done in a retrospective manner rather than a proactive manner in those airports. Wherever we are invited to join those conversations, we ensure an Aer Lingus person is involved.

Mr. Tony Tully

I understand Swissport handles approximately 10% of the business in Dublin Airport. On average, we handle about 120,000 bags a month through Dublin. As regards collaboration and consistent meeting, the airport operators committee holds a meeting every single month but, in fairness, key partners such as the DAA are always available and we meet them weekly on any issues because there are various dynamics that can change. There are no issues on that side from our perspective.

Mr. Darren Moloney

I will reinforce what Mr. Tully said. I think there is a-----

What percentage of Dublin Airport operations does Sky Handling Partner cover?

Mr. Darren Moloney

We estimate the third-party handling market to be 20%, which is split 10% each between Sky Handling Partner and Swissport. We hold 10% of that share.

Sky Handling Partner and Swissport each cover 10%?

Mr. Darren Moloney

Yes, that amounts to 20%.

Can Mr. Harrison give an overarching view on who handles the total values going through Dublin Airport?

Mr. Vincent Harrison

Dublin Airport is relatively unique in that the two major airlines self-handle, to use our parlance. Ryanair manages its operations in Dublin Airport and Aer Lingus manages its operations. In many of the other stations in which they operate the other leg of a journey, they are reliant on these companies or other providers to provide the handling service in those airports. In Dublin Airport, however, they manage their operations themselves. Roughly 80% of the business is managed between the two based carriers and, as Mr. Tully and Mr. Moloney said, the remainder-----

Is that split 40% and 40%?

Mr. Vincent Harrison

When it comes to bags, the answer is probably "Yes" because there would be a higher proportion of bags going through the Aer Lingus system, even though passengers would be-----

The remainder is made up of 10% each for Swissport and Sky Handling Partner.

Mr. Vincent Harrison


No one else is handling baggage apart from the independent operators.

I have a question on that topic before we move on. We have heard about the problems with Aer Lingus and baggage. Does Ryanair have the same problems or what is the situation there?

Mr. Vincent Harrison

From a reported level, the answer is "No". In the same way as Aer Lingus has said, the simple operation of the point-to-point system, which predominately pertains to the Ryanair network out of Dublin, is not affected to anything like the same extent. I think that is their experience.

We have heard about the baggage issue, which is why I started with the question about the proportion of baggage handled by each company. There is a perception out there, which is heard through the media, that Aer Lingus is cancelling flights. I think Aer Lingus cancelled 1,000 flights this week. Will the witnesses address the perception that Aer Lingus is cancelling flights while Ryanair is not?

Ms Lynne Embleton

As I said in my opening statement, Aer Lingus operated all of its schedule for May and 98.2% of its schedule for June. We are cancelling only a small percentage of flights for July. If we compare that with other airlines, we are seeing cancellation rates of 7%, 8%, 9%, 10%, and, in the case of EasyJet, 14%. Relative to the broader European landscape, Aer Lingus is cancelling very few flights. Similarly, as regards bags that are going on a simple point-to-point journey, which are typically short-haul flights, I would say 990 out of 1,000 bags handled by Aer Lingus are transported with no problems whatsoever. It is the connecting flights in other airports that are causing us issues and causing the extra workload we are trying to deal with.

What type of claims has the DAA dealt with and what is the estimated cost of this process?

Ms Louise Bannon

There is a big variation in claims. If people have to pay for flights, in the event that flights are not rebooked by their airline free of charge, incidental expenses, food and drink are the predominant expenses. Staff have been working closely with anyone affected. Sometimes it takes a little bit of toing and froing in terms of getting receipts, etc., but we are working through all those claims very quickly. We have found people to be very reasonable and that has helped to expedite the clearance of claims.

Some 75% of claims have been processed. What is the cost of that to date?

Ms Louise Bannon

I will have to come back to the Deputy with an overall figure.

What is it roughly?

Ms Louise Bannon

It is hundreds of thousands of euro.

What budget does the DAA have to conclude the claims process?

Ms Louise Bannon

We would need to allow for €1 million, and we will see where we come relative to that.

Is the fast-track facility open for bookings again?

Mr. Vincent Harrison

We took fast-track off point-of-sale, where we sell it directly, and we have not put it back on sale as of yet. It is among a number of matters under review given the stability of the system. We did not want to put undue pressure on the system through the direct sale of fast-track bookings.

Mr. Donal Moriarty

I wish to clarify the number of cancellations. It is actually only a handful of flights per day. Just to give the committee a sense-----

What is the total number of flights cancelled to date?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

In June, we planned to operate 8,353 flights and we operated 8,130 flights, which amounts to slightly over 200 cancelled flights in the entire month. It is on a scale of a small number of flights per day rather than the scale suggested.

Is it correct that Aer Lingus has cancelled 1,000 flights to date?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

I am not familiar with that statistic.

That is the figure in the media.

Mr. Donal Moriarty

We operated 100% of our planned flights in May and 98.2% in June.

There were 200 flights cancelled in the month of June. What is the anticipated figure for July?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

The rate of cancellation is tracking slightly ahead of that in July, but only slightly. We are still in the small single-digit number of flights cancelled per day.

Mr. Peter O'Neill

Last week, we cancelled 20 flights, 20 sectors in total, which amounted to ten round trips.

I thank the witnesses for coming before the committee. They can see from the attendance at this meeting that it is clearly a topic that is exercising us, our constituents and the travelling public generally. I thank the witnesses for their opening statements. I listened to and watched them contribute during the to and fro.

Quite a number of my questions have been answered. Deputy Lowry made the point that the two baggage handling companies that have been brought before us each deal with about 10% of the overall volume of baggage. We have Aer Lingus here indirectly through Ms Embleton, Mr. Moriarty and so on, but the two baggage handling companies are a relatively small part of the overall baggage handling that happens at Dublin Airport. On that point, would it be fair to say that the vast bulk of the problems involve transfer flights, that is, flights that are not direct flights - for example, people coming from Greece to Dublin via Zurich or Istanbul who arrive at their destination but whose bags get lost somewhere en route? Ms Embleton referred to point-to-point travel. Is it the same with that? Do Air France flights from Dublin Airport to Charles de Gaulle Airport not cause similar problems? Do transfer flights account for most of the bags on Aer Lingus flights that are caught up?

Mr. Darren Moloney

There are resourcing and infrastructure issues. Anything coming out of certain airports causes a potential issue for us.

Mr. Moloney mentioned Toronto. What are the other major airports affected?

Mr. Darren Moloney

They are some of the big European hubs. The ones to which we are exposed are Amsterdam, Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt.

That is KLM, Lufthansa and-----

Mr. Darren Moloney

Air France.

What about Mr. Tully's organisation?

Mr. Tony Tully

Amsterdam, Heathrow, New York, etc., are the kinds of destinations, the major hubs, where we have problems. The flights affected can be not only point-to-point flights but also transfer flights.

Is Mr. Tully's organisation finding that the bulk of affected flights are transfer flights?

Mr. Tony Tully

A lot of them are transfer flights.

I turn to Ms Embleton on the same point. I think I am right in saying that, at the moment, people who want to check in a 10 kg bag can do so for free but people pay an additional charge to carry on a bag. Is that correct?

Ms Lynne Embleton

For many of our customers there is no charge. It depends on whether they are transferring and whether they are in our frequent flier scheme. For others there is a charge to carry baggage on board. We will take it into the hold for free.

That is what I am saying. Effectively, to carry bags on board, people have to pay a surcharge. It is free to put bags in the hold. Passengers have to turn up that bit earlier, check in their bags and then, potentially, lose the bags. I accept the point about point-to-point flights being less problematic than transfer flights. Effectively, however, people are being charged more for the privilege of carrying bags on board than they would be charged to have them put in the hold, which potentially creates other problems for both the airline and the passenger further down the line.

Ms Lynne Embleton

It is free for all transit passengers to take their bags on board. What we find in a typical short-haul-----

Ms Embleton says it is free for transit passengers. What does she mean by that?

Ms Lynne Embleton

Transit passengers can bring their bags on board free of charge.

Anybody who has booked two legs of a flight can carry their bags on for free.

Ms Lynne Embleton

They can bring their bags.

The surcharge applies only to point-to-point passengers.

Ms Lynne Embleton

In short-haul aircraft there is insufficient overhead baggage space for every passenger to bring on board a bag, so we cannot have every passenger travelling with their bag on the aircraft. We see a lot of operational benefits in respect of avoiding delays as customers previously came on board with bags that could not fit into the aircraft. We therefore see quite a significant improvement in our operational performance and our punctuality when not every passenger comes on board with a bag.

That was the position before what is happening at the moment, though, was it not?

Ms Lynne Embleton

It is still the case that there is insufficient overhead bin space to cope with every bag passengers have.

I travelled Aer Lingus in March. I checked in my bag and was delighted I could do so because I did not have to deal with half the hassle at security. I could put my liquids and everything else into my hold luggage and just travel through the airport with a phone, a laptop and whatever else. There is a benefit to that but, effectively, Aer Lingus is incentivising people to put their bags into the hold, and that may then cause a problem for baggage handling.

Ms Lynne Embleton

Passengers can bring on board small bags that can fit under the seats in front of them. We strongly encourage any passenger travelling with keys, car keys and so on to have them with them on board and, if necessary, to put them under the seats, given the disruption we see across the system at the moment.

There was a reference to a Lanzarote flight last week. I think Privilege Style operated it on Aer Lingus's behalf and the aircraft was too large to land at Dublin Airport or something. Was that because the main runway was closed? What was the issue?

Mr. Peter O'Neill

The issue with that flight was later departure from its origin station. It therefore arrived late and we were not able to take advantage of the runway that was available. The flight then diverted to Shannon to uplift fuel and to await the reopening of the main runway at Dublin.

I saw a similar case yesterday. I think it was a Hi Fly flight from Paris or something. Is Aer Lingus using a lot more wet-lease aircraft than normal?

Mr. Peter O'Neill

It is more than normal and more than we had planned for but, given the level of disruption we were seeing, we thought it was prudent to take advantage of that availability in the market and to secure it in order that we could deliver for our customers.

How much of Aer Lingus's flight schedule is now being provided by other carriers on its behalf?

Mr. Peter O'Neill

Relatively little. Hi Fly operates four sectors per day for us. The other operator operates ad hoc where we have gaps. There is very limited availability in the market right now.

It was just that that aircraft was too large to land on the smaller runway at that hour of the morning.

Mr. Peter O'Neill

There were ongoing runway works and, because of the later arrival, the aircraft was not able to come in on that runway so it diverted, as is normal in such circumstances.

The US transfer business is a very significant part of the Aer Lingus operation. How has that been affected by the bag handling effect? Has it had a big impact?

Mr. Peter O'Neill

It is a factor. For instance, at the weekend we saw that Orlando International Airport had an issue with its baggage system and our flight out of Orlando arrived with 40 fewer bags than it should have had. They were recovered the next day. The issue is around the network, unfortunately.

Sky and Swissport referred to a particular landside facility for people to go to. Dublin Airport is trending on Twitter this morning. People who go to the facility say they can see their bags and can see they are there. They have little trackers on their bags but they cannot get to them. Does Aer Lingus have the same landside facility that the handlers have?

Mr. Peter O'Neill

We are moving bags due for local delivery to the same site and dispatching by courier from there. We have not invited customers to that facility yet but we are facilitating customers to come through security at the airport where the bag may still be in the airside location.

Aer Lingus does not have a landside facility at the moment. The unclaimed bags it handles are still airside. Is that right?

Mr. Peter O'Neill

We have split this into three aspects. Some bags that are with us in Dublin, in the airside location, may need to be reflighted. The customer may already have gone back to his or her home country - it could be the US - in which case we do not want to move the bags landside and then have to go back through security. If the customer is in Ireland, we will dispatch locally. We are using the facility landside for that as well. That is really to speed up the process where couriers do not have to come through security to collect the bag.

If people have trackers on their bags and can say they are in Dublin Airport, is Aer Lingus allowing them to come and collect those bags or is it telling them they must wait for Aer Lingus to dispatch the bags to them?

Mr. Peter O'Neill

We are facilitating that in the traditional process, so people can come up to the airport and phone through to our staff. We have put in place additional staff there to support that process and we can escort up to four people through at a time.

Is that service available 24-7 or how many hours a day is it available?

Mr. Peter O'Neill

We have not put a limit on it, but it would be available up to 9 o'clock at night, I would say. Usually, the hours from 6 o'clock to 9 o'clock are better because there is less activity.

I took on board what Mr. Harrison said about the prudent timing of two and a half hours for a short-haul flight plus an hour more if checking in a bag. Say I am going to Brussels or Paris and have a booking for a 6.50 a.m. flight. Two and a half hours before that is 4.20 a.m. Another hour before that is 3.20 a.m. How early does Aer Lingus accept bags in Dublin Airport?

Mr. Peter O'Neill

We open our check-in from 3 a.m. now, so we accept bags from then. For leisure flights we are taking bags the night before. In particular, families travelling can leave their bags with us the night before and check in-----

What is Aer Lingus's definition of a leisure flight? A flight to a holiday destination?

Mr. Peter O'Neill

I am using that just as an example. For any short-haul flight with a morning departure, passengers can check in the evening before.

At what time does morning stop?

Mr. Peter O'Neill

It stops at about 7 a.m.

So Mr. O'Neill is referring to anyone with a pre-7 a.m. flight.

Mr. Peter O'Neill


Pre-7 a.m. only, so there is really only that window from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. in respect of which passengers can bring their bags the night before.

Mr. Peter O'Neill

That is the busy period. Particularly if families were moving and wanted to avoid being up at a very early hour, it would take that strain out.

As for the DAA, I thank Mr. Harrison and acknowledge what many other Members have said about the improvements made. I was looking on the app regularly before the meeting. It is at ten minutes, 20 minutes or 15 minutes. We can see that cleanliness seems to be still a big problem. Parking, I think, is still quite a big problem in terms of capacity. When does the DAA think it will be able to tell the travelling public that we are back to some kind of pre-pandemic normality whereby people do not have to get up at 2 o'clock in the morning to get to the airport for their 7 o'clock flight, for example? How soon does Mr. Harrison think that may happen?

Mr. Vincent Harrison

There are two factors at play. One is the advice that is given and the second is the general level of anxiety, whereby people essentially do not heed the advice. We see that well in excess of 50% of passengers are still presenting well before the advised time.

In fact, we see them-----

That is more than three and a half or four and a half hours early.

Mr. Vincent Harrison

-----when they are coming through security to present their boarding cards. They have already been at the airport for some time before that and they are still well in advance of the two and a half hours or three and a half hours. There has to be a level at which people have gained sufficient assurance from their own experience and the experience of others, and perhaps the commentary in the media and on social media, that a general level of calmness is there.

When will the authority's formal advice change from three and a half hours for long-haul flights and two and a half hours for short-haul flights? When will its advice to the public change? Mr. Harrison is saying an average of 45 minutes. When will the formal advice change?

Mr. Vincent Harrison

I cannot give a date on that because we need to ensure we do not create a problem for people by advising them to come too late. We have gone through the logic of the steps that are required. At the moment, with contingency, allowing more than an hour to go through security is still prudent, with the other elements of getting to the gate-----

Is the authority making a formal announcement today that it is now an hour?

I was hoping it might come to me, but it is actually going to the Cathaoirleach.

Mr. Vincent Harrison

I am sorry. I am saying that is the amount of time we are allowing people to have which is allowing for the fact, as I said, that more than 90% are going through in less than 45 minutes. We need to give a general message to all passengers. If we look at the app, it is clear that there are passengers going through the terminals in ten or 12 minutes.

The authority is almost a victim of its own success, which is a good thing.

I have a final question, if the Cathaoirleach does not mind. The new control tower is there, which is great, and the new runway will be opened in the next month or so, which is also great. I was talking to a country manager of one of the long-haul airlines who said it would love to bring in a couple more flights a week and the airport has the slots but it does not have the baggage handlers, the check-in agents or the air bridge operators. How is that hindering Dublin Airport's ability to sell itself as having the handling partners required? Equally, do Sky and Swissport have the staff to bring in new business or accept new business if it is looking to be here?

I have a final question. The committee visited Shannon Airport . We saw the new cabin baggage screening, which, I am aware, is extremely expensive and heavy. It is a game-changer, though, because it can deal with larger liquids, is much quieter, there is less confiscation, fewer bags needing to be pulled and so on. When does the authority see that baggage screening coming into Dublin Airport? The other point is about how can DAA handle new business. Is there a capacity constraint on Dublin Airport, and where is the authority relative to that?

Mr. Vincent Harrison

Business development in aviation is a relatively long game. We are in discussions with airlines all the time about opportunities. In terms of the level of demand, the summer activity has taken everybody by surprise. While we would always be grateful for more business, the capacity challenges we have already experienced have been part of the reason some of that capacity has not been delivered, whether that is because of cancellations or particular airlines changing their plans. As a result, our focus will be on ensuring we can bring about that additional business next year and in the years after. The way capacity is managed at the airport is through the slot allocation process which is supported by a number of capacity triggers that are available. Runway capacity is typically the most constrained of those so that determines the level of activity within an hour.

Is there a planning permission limit on the airport operating-----

Mr. Harrison will have to conclude here.

Is it 30 million or 35 million? Is there a capacity constraint on the airport?

Mr. Vincent Harrison

There are planning elements in place but given that as we know the level of activity across particular hours is far greater than at other times of the day it is very difficult to-----

Mr. Vincent Harrison

-----explain that in an annual number.

The baggage screening is the final point.

Mr. Vincent Harrison

We will be trialling the technology the Senator described there in the coming months in Dublin Airport to look to deploy the best technology.

I thank Mr. Harrison.

Ms Embleton referred to infrastructural deficits at Dublin Airport. As we are speaking about it she might comment on that area.

Ms Lynne Embleton

Absolutely. This is a subject we should come back to-----

Which we will.

Ms Lynne Embleton

-----when these current issues are behind us. Aer Lingus has aircraft on order. We want to grow, and we want to build a hub. It is absolutely fundamental the airport facilities are able to accommodate that growth. Runway slots are one thing, but the infrastructure, the stands and the screening all contribute to a working, functioning airport. We need to see the capacity of the airlines expand as they try to bring more passengers.

We are going to do a piece of work on aviation policy. As Ms Embleton knows, we have airports in Shannon and Cork as well, so she is very welcome. Deputy Carey is next.

I thank our guests. It is a very worthwhile meeting. I return to the mandated cap in Heathrow and the impact that is having, especially on Shannon Airport. As I understand it, we have 23 different slots that Aer Lingus holds for use in Heathrow. Is that correct? How many of those slots are allocated to Shannon?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

Normally, we have three return services per day between Shannon and Heathrow. Recently, because of the mandated cut, that has had to be reduced to two per day. Typically, we are trying to reaccommodate passengers who are disrupted by that cancellation of services on the same day and we are largely managing to achieve that, so the disruption is minimised in that respect.

Okay. How does Aer Lingus decide which route it chops on a particular day? How does it decided whether it is Dublin, Cork or Shannon?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

First, we do not wish to do it - it is mandated. On balance, the cancellations we have effected in Dublin Airport have significantly outweighed those in Cork and Shannon, but what we have to look at-----

Is Mr. Moriarty able to give figures in that regard?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

Yes. We have figures up to 20 July. Due to the mandate and other issues, we cancelled 43 services on the Dublin route, 12 on the Cork route and 11 on the Shannon route. That has moved on a little bit since 20 July but that is a sense of scale. As to how we the decision, it is an operational decision based upon what will discommode the least number of passengers and what is our ability to reaccommodate them most efficiently. The lens we use is the customer lens and trying to accommodate the customers as quickly as possible on the earliest available service.

As a representative of County Clare and the region, I can say that this has a disproportionate impact on Shannon. We have fewer flights, as Mr. Moriarty will understand. Dublin is taking the biggest hit, followed by Cork and then Shannon, but it is our lifeline to the world. It is our connection to the massive hub that is Heathrow. When that is removed or disrupted in any way it has an impact on business, tourism and future investment. I ask that Aer Lingus take that into account to minimise the impact. I acknowledge some of this is out of the airline's hands. A remark was made earlier that other airlines are not taking this mandated cap on board at all. It appears Aer Lingus is best in class on it. It does have, and is having, an impact on the region.

When we are discussing slots and Heathrow, there was a deal brokered between the Government and Aer Lingus back in 2015. A number of caveats were built into that and number 1 was the protection of those slots and that vital link. Growth was also to happen in Shannon, Cork and Dublin as well. That deal comes to an end in September of this year. I would like to get the airline management's thoughts and plans on Shannon and the use of those slots going forward. Will any account be taken of the two years those flights were not used? During Covid, Aer Lingus's decision was to axe the Heathrow service.

Mr. Donal Moriarty

To give a sense of those commitments, they were to continue the services that existed in 2015 for a seven-year period. The Deputy is right; that period will expire in September. However, we resumed Shannon-Heathrow services post pandemic in September of last year, and we added services shortly after the runway closure at Cork Airport. We maintained those services at three a day since then. Obviously, these are impacted by the mandate. Our services to London Heathrow go beyond September. Today, a person can buy a ticket to fly to Heathrow from Shannon for next June. Commercially, those services are simply continuing as normal.

That is very encouraging. We mentioned next June. Aviation has undergone a significant and welcome resurgence, and we are dealing with the fallout of that such as cancelled flights, lost bags, and whatever else, which we have been discussing today. On the region I represent, Mr. Moriarty has given strong assurances that it makes sense commercially to have a strong presence between Shannon and Heathrow. Going forward, can he give a stronger commitment that the Shannon-Heathrow route will be there?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

It makes sense commercially and it is on sale. We resumed our transatlantic services from Shannon in April this year after nearly a two-year gap. On what the Deputy mentioned earlier, the cancellation of services during the two years was not something we wanted to do. It was something we had to do because there were travel restrictions in place internationally, but, more specifically in Ireland, that simply meant those services could not operate in that period. We resumed those transatlantic services as quickly as we could. They are up and running now bringing tourist to the west of Ireland on a daily basis and they are operating successfully. We will continue to do that and we see no reason why those services would not continue and prosper into the future.

Ms Embleton mentioned that Aer Lingus has aircraft on order and that it wants to increase capacity, which is very welcome. Given the problems experienced by Aer Lingus passengers at Dublin Airport due to the loss of bags and cancelled flights, and with the sheer capacity that is in Shannon and other airports as well as the convenience afforded to the passenger, are there plans to improve or add services in Shannon?

Ms Lynne Embleton

First, I hope that the disruption being experienced in Dublin will be resolved as all parties add resources. This should be a temporary issue. As I look at our aircraft coming into the fleet, they are primarily long-haul aircraft that we are going with. Generally, between 30% to 80% of customers on long-haul flights will be transferring and that is where the hub dynamics really matter. Usually, there is insufficient point-to-point demand to operate a breadth of services. JFK Airport is a good example where point-to-point will justify the filling of a commercial service. Boston is another. However, when one gets beyond those big markets, connecting traffic is needed to fill the aircraft to sustain the service. Typically, a breadth of services is obtained from the hubs because they can draw on the short-haul network to provide enough onward passengers to supplement point-to-point passengers and make a service viable. There will always be a much easier case for going long haul out of a hub than there would be out of another airport. Having said that, every time we get an aircraft in, we will look at where we think we can deploy it profitably. As a result, I would not rule anything out at this point.

Prior to Covid, plans were in place to add Barcelona and Paris to the schedule in Shannon. Are those services being looked at again?

Ms Lynne Embleton

By necessity, we took a significant cut in our short-haul fleet during Covid. That fleet is not being restored immediately because we are looking at the balance sheet and capital constraints that the airline is facing. We will have less short-haul growth in the near term.

As we come out of Covid and rebuild the business, we will look at that again. Once we get new short-haul aircraft, we will have the pleasure of looking at where can best deploy them.

In terms of the disruption, many people say to me that Aer Lingus has cancelled a lot of flights. Ryanair has not done so. Aer Lingus and Ryanair are the two big carriers. Some people who have worked with Aer Lingus in the mid-west region say that many of these flights were cancelled because Aer Lingus simply does not have the staff. Covid is being blamed, but some of the workers within Aer Lingus were let go. Is that a fair enough remark?

Ms Lynne Embleton

No, that is simply not true.

I know Aer Lingus chopped the base in Shannon. There were 82 people working there. I know that about 31 of them managed to transfer to Dublin. Has that had an impact on the decision of Aer Lingus to cancel flights?

Ms Lynne Embleton

No, not at all. As I said earlier, we said we would operate 90% of our capacity for the summer peak. We are resourced to do that. Indeed, our pilot community has 6% more pilots than in 2019. All areas in Aer Lingus have been resourced for the schedule we intended to fly. In terms of cancellations, I refer to the number we mentioned earlier, namely, ten round trips in a week. We are cancelling much fewer than other network carriers. As was said earlier, the network and connecting impact of disruption at hubs are causing the issues.

How many people were employed by Aer Lingus in 2019 and how many are employed by it now? What is the breakdown across the staff cohorts?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

Ms Embleton stated earlier that we are at 91% of the employment level we had in 2019. Currently, we are carrying 81% of the number of passengers we carried in 2019.

How many planes is Aer Lingus operating now compared with the number that were operating in 2019?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

As Ms Embleton mentioned, we have a smaller short-haul fleet than we had in 2019.

Ms Lynne Embleton

It is 33 aircraft. We had 40 aircraft operating on short haul before Covid.

Aer Lingus has 91% of the number of people it used to have.

Mr. Donal Moriarty

In rough figures - I do not have the details in front of me - we had 4,500 employees in 2019. We have 9% fewer staff than that currently. That builds a buffer for us in terms of our planned level of capacity and our anticipated number of passengers. That should be a buffer for us in the context of capacity and passengers, but the disruption has consumed a significant portion of that buffer.

Aer Lingus is down about 400 staff on 2019 levels. Is that correct?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

We would view that as being up on the number of staff required for our plan to function.

I accept that. However, if I take a crude percentage of 10%, that amounts to 450 people. If I reduce that, the number of staff is it 4,100 or so. Therefore, Aer Lingus is down about 400 staff.

Mr. Donal Moriarty

That is in the context of a smaller operation.

I have a final question on the Aer Lingus base in Shannon. Are there any plans to revisit the hub issue and re-establish a base in Shannon?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

On the previous occasion I was before the committee, I explained that decision in detail. The reason that decision was made was to ensure the financial viability of the routes out of Shannon Airport - Shannon to London Heathrow and transatlantic services. That decision was crucial in ensuring the resumption of services out of Shannon Airport. Looking at the requirements for those services, closure of our cabin crew base in Shannon was essential. As the Deputy mentioned earlier, those employees were given the options to redeploy to Dublin or Cork, or take voluntary severance. All of that was successfully implemented. We were able to give those employees the choices they wanted at that time.

I also welcome our guests. I would like to kick off with a few points. It has been a great political failure on the part of Shannon that Aer Lingus was sold and that there was a tied-in agreement that a landing slot at Heathrow would be retained until the autumn of 2022.

We are on the cusp of that time and we have absolutely no certainty. A few moments ago,. Mr. Moriarty stated that it is commercially viable. People are buying tickets and flying on the route, but certainty in respect of the route will be gone from the end of September onwards. Can the witnesses give us any certainty that they are committed to retaining dedicated and ring-fenced Heathrow slots for the Shannon service?

Ms Lynne Embleton

As Mr. Moriarty indicated , these services are viable for us. Now that we are coming out of Covid, we have absolutely no intention of changing them.

Within IAG and Aer Lingus, are any slots pinned down to a specific route? I know the Shannon route is because of an agreement with the Government. Do IAG or Aer Lingus have ring-fenced, dedicated and committed slots at Heathrow that they do not deviate from? I refer to Dublin, for example.

Mr. Donal Moriarty

The slots are not dedicated to specific routes. The commitment Aer Lingus made was that we would replicate the services that were operating in 2015 for a period of seven years . As the Deputy said, that period expires in September. We also committed, as part of the transaction in 2015, that if we are to dispose of or encumber any Heathrow slots, we require the consent of the Government, essentially the Ministers for Transport and Finance. Slots cannot be disposed of without that consent. The commitments in terms of the specific operation of those slots expires, as the Deputy said, in September. Again, we are selling and operating those routes in their current structure, they are viable and we see no reason why that should change.

Shannon-Heathrow is the only route Aer Lingus is committed to. It has no commitment to Dublin, Cork or any other airports. Is the commitment to a Shannon-Heathrow service until the end of September unique?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

In 2015, we were required to maintain all of our services in and out of Heathrow Airport for a period of seven years. We did not maintain them; rather, we got access to more Heathrow slots and grew the services over that period.

I do not blame Aer Lingus. It is a commercial company and will make commercial decisions. Right now, and for the foreseeable future, it makes commercial sense to operate the Shannon-Heathrow route. The witnesses should not blame themselves. There may come a time when that may not happen and our worst dreams and nightmares might come true. The reality is that Shannon and the mid-west region was sold a pup, in that there would be a guaranteed service from Shannon to Heathrow until September 2022. We are at the door of that. Aer Lingus has committed to it, but we cannot hold it to any commitment. There is no legal basis for the Government to hold something over Aer Lingus at the moment.

The decision to close the Shannon base was taken in the darkest days of Covid. During a meeting with the committee on Microsoft Teams, Aer Lingus said there was a cash burn of €1 million a day, if I remember correctly, and it was talking about the company's survival and said it needed to make very harsh decisions. That did not go down well with the workers, but sin é. That has happened.

People are now looking at aviation taking off, quite literally. The recovery rate is quite high, in particular in Dublin, but also in places like Cork and Shannon, which is in my constituency. Given that Aer Lingus is performing well and the next 12 months should, it is to be hoped, bode even better for the company, has it given consideration to the reinstatement of the Shannon base? How viable has bussing cabin crew from Dublin been over the past 14 months?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

I addressed a similar question from Deputy Carey. A decision was taken during the course of the pandemic, but it was primarily taken to ensure that Aer Lingus could restore and resume services from Shannon Airport, namely, services to London Heathrow and, critically, the transatlantic service to New York and Boston. Without having taken those decisions, the viability and prospect of the return of those services would have been significantly damaged. At the time, we offered all of our cabin crew based in Shannon the choice to redeploy to Dublin or Cork or take voluntary severance. All of their choices in respect of that were accommodated.

We have closed the cabin crew base, but have ensured the resumption of the services which, the Deputy will acknowledge, are critical to the mid-west region.

They are absolutely critical. I hope the closure is subject to review.

Mr. Donal Moriarty

If it was reviewed, it would potentially put at risk the continued services to New York, Boston and Heathrow. A review would be the wrong thing to do. It is not something we intend to do.

We have grown accustomed to bombshells in politics. Does Aer Lingus have any AIB-esque announcement today or will it make one in the future?

Mr. Donal Moriarty


What it is committed to it is committed to.

Mr. Donal Moriarty


Okay. That is good.

Aer Lingus Cargo is something we in the mid-west pride ourselves on. During the dark days of Covid when the whole world was flipped on its head, I was particularly alarmed to see large cargo crates from Boston Scientific, each of which was small but with a monetary value of around €1 million, being trucked overnight from the apron of Shannon Airport down the motorway network to Rosslare. They were then brought on a ferry and flown from Heathrow over the skies of Shannon to the United States. That is a very cumbersome way of transporting cargo. How has cargo in Shannon changed? Are there any future plans to improve cargo facilities and use wide bodied jets to get more cargo out of Shannon Airport?

Ms Lynne Embleton

During Covid, we learned a lot about the economic of flying cargo on cargo only aircraft. A passenger aircraft with belly hold space for cargo needs to be filled at many times the normal yield in order to break even on that flight. Using a passenger aircraft for cargo purposes only in very extreme circumstances can make sense. In Aer Lingus, we need to make sure that where we have passenger services we use them as much as possible, but also fill the cargo part of the aircraft. We do not have any further plans for Shannon in terms of cargo. Where we can operate passenger services supplemented with cargo we will do so. We do not have cargo specific aircraft in Aer Lingus, and we do not intend to move into that space. It is about utilising the network we have and ensuring that the belly holds of passenger aircraft are filled with cargo as much as we can.

Does Ms Embleton consider Aer Lingus to be an Irish airline?

Ms Lynne Embleton

I do.

Does the shamrock matter?

Ms Lynne Embleton

It absolutely matters to everybody in Aer Lingus.

During Covid, people felt their jobs were on the line. Some lost jobs and others relocated, as Mr. Moriarty said. There is huge pride in the shamrock on the tail of Aer Lingus planes, but there is a feeling that this is very much an airline that is orientated towards Madrid and London. Somebody said that those in IAG headquarters would probably not even know where Shannon is.

Ms Lynne Embleton

Everybody in Aer Lingus knows where Shannon is. I came to the committee during Covid and said that it is absolutely our intention to reinstate services in Shannon, and that is exactly what we do did. We are selling flights to Shannon and expect to continue to do so.

The chief executive of Shannon Airport and the Shannon Group, Mary Considine, recently briefed Oireachtas Members. She and her board have made an application to the Government for Brexit adjustment funding that would allow for an additional European hub service out of Shannon. It has been well flagged over the years that the likes of Frankfurt and Schiphol in Amsterdam have been looked at. I know the answer that will be given is that this is commercially sensitive information, but would Aer Lingus be in a position to and interested in expanding services, with or without Brexit adjustment funding, in Shannon Airport in order to provide connectivity beyond the land of Boris Johnson to continental Europe?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

We probably answered that question in a different context a little earlier. We are constrained in our short haul aircraft. Our fleet has been reduced from what it was pre-Covid.

What was it reduced by?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

There are seven aircraft fewer than was previously the case.

The total number of aircraft was 50. Is that correct?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

No, there were 40 short-haul aircraft. There are 33 now.

There are 14 short-haul aircraft. How many long-haul aircraft are there?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

There are 28 long-haul aircraft.

Aer Lingus is operating roughly 60 aircraft.

Mr. Donal Moriarty

No, slightly more. It is 62 or 63.

How many is Aer Lingus down? Is it down seven?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

We are down seven on short haul. We grew slightly on long haul.

The number of short haul was 47. Is that correct?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

It was 40 and it is now 33.

I have some more questions. I will leave Aer Lingus alone and I thank the witnesses for their answers. I hope some of what I have asked about will remain subject to review. The mid-west is viable and it has been very good to Aer Lingus. I hope the cabin crew base and the routes serviced out of Shannon will be kept under positive review.

I want to finish with some questions for the DAA. I cannot leave it off the hook on this one. Has it been complicit in damaging Ireland Inc. in 2022? We have extortionate hotel prices. We have price gouging in hotels. We have had images of people queueing at Dublin Airport in marquee tents in the car park, people missing flights and people crying on television. It came home to me a couple of weeks ago when a traditional Irish music group from New Jersey won a qualifier round to compete in the all-Ireland fleadh. They got a trophy and a plate but they were told the price of hotels and flying into Dublin would not work so they stayed at home. They are champions in New Jersey but it means nothing to them. Do the witnesses believe that Dublin Airport has been damaging to Ireland Inc.? As we head into the autumn how do they propose to reconcile this and improve relations?

I ask Mr. Harrison to conclude.

Mr. Vincent Harrison

In the previous session and this session we have discussed that we regret the failures that have happened in our responsibilities. We have worked diligently to rectify them. We have updated the committee on this today. We do not have a role in the price of hotels, airfares or other issues to which Deputy Crowe has referred. A range of factors render the competitive position of Ireland at risk in the long term and they are probably the subject for a very different debate.

How will circumstances be improved for Dublin Airport in the coming months?

There are three or four other speakers and we have to give them time. I ask Mr. Harrison to respond very quickly.

Mr. Harrison might just answer that question.

Very quickly.

Deputy Crowe spent eight minutes talking about Shannon. Come on, Chair.

It is our choice to-----

No, the title of this hearing is on Dublin Airport.

It is our choice to use-----

The title for this committee hearing is the crisis at Dublin Airport.

I will not tell you how to use your speaking time.

Well, I will be on the bloody topic.

The public are looking in. I want us to get information. I ask Mr. Harrison to respond quickly and I will then go to Deputy Smith.

Mr. Vincent Harrison

The areas we have called out as a key focus, in addition to continuing the delivery of security, are areas with regard to cleanliness, services for passengers with reduced mobility and general passenger satisfaction at the airport.

I will now go to Deputy Smith.

My first question is for Aer Lingus. The witnesses have said overall staff levels are at 91% of pre-pandemic levels. Aer Lingus has increased the number of pilots by 6% and call centre staff by 90. I am not sure what the percentage is. Proportionately speaking, cabin crew and ground staff must have taken a big hit in the number of staff that has been lost. Will the witnesses comment on what percentage of staff have been lost in this area?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

I will deal with this question. We have 3.7% fewer cabin crew today than we did in 2019. I keep referencing that our capacity is 90% of what it was in 2019 and passenger numbers are 81% of what they were. With regard to ground operations, it is closer to 10% lower than it was in 2019. Again, this is reflective of the shift in capacity numbers. Having said this, we continue to recruit on a constant basis to deal with the increased level of disruption we see. Normally we complete recruitment for the season earlier in the year but we have continued our recruitment process to help deal with the continuous disruption that we have described.

Earlier Mr. Moriarty spoke of a successful buffer but Aer Lingus is still recruiting.

Mr. Donal Moriarty


How do the two match up? Is the buffer enough?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

The buffer was designed to deal with a reasonably normal level of disruption.

The disruption we described earlier in the wider aviation system in Europe is greater than we would have expected. We continue to recruit to deal with the challenges we face.

How does Aer Lingus hire additional pilots without hiring the requisite proportionate number of cabin crew? Surely pilots are being hired for routes. These routes will require-----

Mr. Donal Moriarty

I will-----

For each pilot, X number of cabin crew and X number of ground crew are required. How does this work?

Ms Lynne Embleton

I will answer this and then call Mr. O'Neill. The lead time for training pilots is the longest lead time among all of our work groups. As we look at our growth plans and future aircraft we make sure we have sufficient pilots in the system to fly them. At present this gives us more pilots than we would normally need to have for the level of operations. It gives us an extra buffer in the number of pilots. As we have said, we have more cabin crew as a percentage than the relative operations. Where we took the biggest reduction in staff numbers was in head office functions. In our front-line functions we were ready with the right resources for the schedule. When we noticed the disruption occurring throughout Europe in particular, rather than stopping recruitment because we had met the requirements for our schedule we took the decision to continue to recruit because we could see how much extra pressure it was putting on our ground teams, crew teams and call centre teams.

Do transatlantic flights constitute point-to-point flights as per the definition?

Ms Lynne Embleton

It is a passenger who is point-to-point or connecting. I would say approximately 70% of typical long-haul flight passengers are point-to-point with 30% or 40% of passengers on a typical long-haul flight connecting to Europe or vice versa.

Without getting into the number of flights being cancelled because that has been answered it seems they are predominantly transatlantic flights, albeit a relatively small number. They are not impacted by Heathrow hubs or the issues on mainland Europe. Surely staff on those flights are not disproportionately impacted by Covid compared to staff on any other flight. Why are the transatlantic flights being cancelled?

Mr. Peter O'Neill

I am happy to take this. As I mentioned, we have taken in some leased aircraft. This has given us additional buffer on the European flights. It has freed up our resources for short-haul flights. In the past week we have been hit by some down-route sickness on transatlantic flights. At an outstation or-----

What does that mean?

Mr. Peter O'Neill

Somebody could be in LA when they call in to say they are unwell. They go through the procedure and we would not have crew in place until the next day. By its nature transatlantic is more disruptive if we lose crew in this way.

The witnesses have mentioned there are infrastructural deficits in Dublin Airport that require stands, screenings and extra measures. This will have to be funded. The DAA has a plan for this that will involve increasing airport charges. What will be the approach of Aer Lingus to this? On the one hand it demands these infrastructural improvements but, on the other, how will they be funded and how will Aer Lingus deal with this?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

This process is determined by a regulatory process run by the Commission for Aviation Regulation.

Aer Lingus will have a view and it will make it public I imagine.

Mr. Donal Moriarty

Only last Friday the commission published a preliminary determination. It is conducting an eight-week consultation process. We will participate fully in the process. We are reviewing the document that was published last Friday. From our perspective it is key for us that required infrastructure is delivered on a timely and cost-effective basis. As do all stakeholders, we look to the regulator to determine the appropriate level of pricing to enable the funding of the required infrastructure.

There is a fixed tension in the aviation industry between the airlines, which continually drive down costs and prices, and the airports here and elsewhere, which have fixed costs that do not change and in fact will probably only increase. This is something the aviation industry will have to wrestle with but that is another point. The witnesses from Aer Lingus mentioned they foresaw demand coming back to 90% of what it was.

In our previous meeting with representatives of the DAA and others involved in the aviation industry, it was stated that they did not see this level of demand returning and that no one foresaw this. Did Aer Lingus feel it was a lone voice late last summer and over the winter in foreseeing that aviation was going to rebound? What were its meetings with other stakeholders in the aviation industry like? Do the witnesses feel like they were not listened to?

Ms Lynne Embleton

The first point is that 90% of 2019 levels is still a reduced demand. Therefore, we did not-----

I am sorry. The way this is worded in the opening statement is:

We reiterated our intention...[and] planned for and were prepared for the return in passenger demand. We built appropriate buffers into our plans in order to deal with [the] reasonable level of additional disruption.

The inference there is that Aer Lingus prepared and hired for this outcome, while others did not. Is this accurate? Did the representatives of Aer Lingus raise this aspect with other stakeholders?

Ms Lynne Embleton

We were very loud in our intention and planning. As I said in response to some of the previous questions, back in the autumn of last year we said we wanted to fly and expected to fly 90% of our programme. That is exactly what we did. We were ready and we were ready with our resources. As I said earlier as well, if every other part of the system had been ready, then we would not be having these conversations today. Therefore, we were very clear on our plans and our scheduling date.

Turning to the representatives of the DAA, is that accurate? Do they feel that Aer Lingus, as a major stakeholder in Dublin Airport, was saying that late last year? Did the representatives of the DAA have a different view as to how aviation was going to recover? Do they feel that Aer Lingus was prepared and that the DAA was not?

Mr. Vincent Harrison

We were guided by several sources. Taking the guidance issued by Airports International Europe, ACI Europe, the group representing airports around Europe, it was expecting passenger numbers to return to approximately 70% of 2019 levels in 2022. It is always important to understand the currency we are dealing in. The aircraft movements may be there, but then there is also a question, especially when it comes to security screening, concerning how full those aircraft are going to be. Potentially, aircraft can operate viably with relatively lower load factors, although there will always be a cut-off point regarding that viability. In general, therefore, the industry would have expected, and when we started to see statistics in Dublin outperforming those averages, that was on the high side. What has definitely taken us by surprise, and I will not speak for others, has been the sustained level of demand that has been pretty much filling all the seats put on. Therefore, where capacity is back to 90%, the load factors are back to 90% and more in the peak summer season as well.

On the training of the security staff, I acknowledge the great strides made at all levels this summer compared with where we were earlier in the season. The security workers are being lauded by people going through the airport for the great work they are doing. Turning to the training provided for new workers coming in, some of them went on the job with a couple of weeks of training. I understand they need to do a few more weeks of training to get accredited. There are also incumbent workers who need to have their accreditations extended. What is the plan for those cohorts of security workers?

I also understand that a collection of bags is being held in the terminal buildings. The environment in that room and its surroundings is not great due to perishable items in these bags, and other stuff, to be honest. I would like a comment on this aspect. Whose bags are these? Are they the responsibility of Swissport, SHP, Aer Lingus, Ryanair or all these companies together?

Mr. Vincent Harrison

On the security question, our ambition and our process would be to have all our security screening staff trained to the fully requisite levels. As we have brought staff in and as we were short of numbers, we needed to bring people up to a particular standard, in some cases, so they could be deployed and utilised, as opposed to being held on extended training periods. Of course, that approach was also required to free up the ability to continuously train existing staff. This is still in process as we bring staff into place. We are not, though, changing our modus operandi in the overall environment.

Turning to the question about bags, we have seen statistics, as this issue has grown, concerning the volume of baggage coming in broadly matching the volume going out. This means a big dent is not being made in the situation in the existing facility.

We have worked with the handlers to effectively relocate these bags into a more convenient area for processing. Initially, in many cases, the bags are everybody's. They need to be separated by airline and by handler. Then the tracking and matching to individual passengers can occur within the systems of the respective airline or handler.

I apologise to the representatives of Swissport and SHP for not having enough time to ask them questions. I thank them for coming in.

I will give the Deputy a small bit of latitude.

I thank the Deputy and I call Deputy O'Rourke.

I thank the witnesses for attending. I will pick up the point concerning Aer Lingus's projections again, because it was one of the key features of discussion the last time the representatives of the DAA were here. In fairness, they were able to then and have again today pointed to several industry and departmental indicators in this regard. In this context, did Aer Lingus - and I presume some of its competitors because they seem to be on a similar trajectory - have additional information, such as market information or survey information? How did its projections fare? The airline had planned for a 90% recovery. Has that level been reached or what percentage has been reached?

Ms Lynne Embleton

We did not have a crystal ball. Having been effectively grounded for two years, we were not entirely clear what the demand was going to look like. What we wanted to do, however, was to get Aer Lingus up and running and flying again and, therefore, we committed to that schedule. As I said, we planned and resourced for the schedule. It was never our intention, though, to fly empty aircraft. We expected those aircraft to be filled, particularly during the summer peak. We had less confidence around the shorter periods, but we were confident that there was built-up leisure demand. Our assumption was that we would provide the capacity to service that market. We were looking at other industry data that showed a 100% industry restoration was unlikely to happen in 2022. We took the view, however, that a 90% recovery was going to be a fair assumption for 2022. I reiterate that we were never intending to fly empty aircraft. With the capacity came the expectation we would fill it. Last week's load factors, that is, the percentage of seats filled, was around 90%, which is healthy for this time of year.

At the very least, there is an opportunity here. The airlines provide the service, but they also induce the demand to some degree. People avail of services when they are there. There is certainly at least an opportunity to improve in respect of market and demand projections. There is an opportunity here-----

To recover in the context of Covid-19.

I think so. Turning to the representatives of the DAA, and regarding the approximately 1,400 people affected by the issues encountered on 29 May and who missed flights, it was stated that 75% of those people have been dealt with. What advice would the representatives of the DAA give to someone who has sent 13 emails and filled in the requisite forms but has not seen progress made on the request? Might many people be in that situation?

Ms Louise Bannon

I would be surprised and disappointed if anyone is in that situation. I am aware of one or two people who sent in emails and who felt they were not responded to quickly enough. Being honest, however, what we are getting now is positive feedback from people regarding how quickly they are being dealt with. We have a team working tirelessly on this issue and trying to expedite refunds. The rate of refusals of applications is less than 1%. We are working our way through these requests.

If there is anyone in that kind of situation, he or she can contact me or Mr. Cullinane directly and we will deal with it. However, I would be surprised if it arises.

I will be happy to pick up on that with Ms Bannon. Will she clarify that the figure she gave was 1,400?

Ms Louise Bannon

The figure of 1,400 is the estimated total of missed flights. We have had 702 claims that are now in process. The average number of people per claim is 1.9, which takes us almost exactly to that 1,400 number. We think we have the vast bulk of claims in now.

Ms Bannon indicated that 75% of claims are in train. When does she expect to reach 100%? When she says 75% are being dealt with, does that mean they are processed and resolved?

Ms Louise Bannon

Of that 75%, the majority are closed. There are some we anticipate we will close in the next three weeks. We hope to have everybody cleared and done by the end of August. That is our aspiration.

Ms Bannon indicated earlier in response to Deputy Lowry that the amount paid out is in the hundreds of thousands and she expects the total will probably come to €1 million when all the claims are paid. However, if 702 claims are processed-----

Ms Louise Bannon

That is the total number of applicants.

How many of them have been paid?

Ms Louise Bannon

Approximately 44% of them.

What does that amount to numerically?

Ms Louise Bannon

The number is 313.

A total of 313 out of the 702 are paid. That means there are approximately 389 claims left. Is that correct?

Ms Louise Bannon


How then is Ms Bannon getting from a figure of €100,000 to €1 million?

Ms Louise Bannon

The amount paid so far is in the hundreds of thousands.

Mr. Kevin Cullinane

The question was how much of our budget are we allowing for this. The answer is that we are allowing up to €1 million to compensate fully all of the claims.

How much has the DAA paid out to date?

Ms Louise Bannon

I will have to come back to the Chairman with the exact amount.

Are the 313 claims paid at this point?

Ms Louise Bannon


To clarify, there are 389 claims outstanding and the expectation is that the full amount will come to €1 million?

Ms Louise Bannon

We are allowing up to €1 million.

I thank Ms Bannon for that information. A major issue that people continue to identify is around cleaning and cleanliness at the airport. The DAA witnesses pointed out that there has been some redirecting of staff. When might passengers expect normal service to be resumed in terms of those standards?

Mr. Vincent Harrison

We are already seeing much more positive feedback and response in this regard. We certainly are not satisfied that the issue is being addressed consistently all day every day and we will not be satisfied until we get there. However, we believe the standards have already improved and will continue to improve over the coming weeks.

My next set of questions is for all the witnesses. I want to get as clear a picture as possible. I am sorry if I am repeating questions I missed at the start of the meeting. First, what is the full picture regarding baggage handling and lost luggage? We are hearing that this issue will continue to arise at least until the end of the summer. Is that the case?

Second, what is the amount of lost or unclaimed luggage on site today and what is the throughput of that luggage? Is the number being added to or reduced on a day-to-day basis? I am wondering whether it is an accumulating problem or a reducing problem. What advice can the witnesses give to people who have travelled to Dublin Airport and are now in Ireland and want to pursue their lost luggage? I am aware that some of that baggage is airside, some is landside and some of it will be couriered. People are not being encouraged to go to the airport to collect it. The witnesses from the DAA might take those questions first. I do not know whether they have oversight of the Ryanair end of the things and an overall picture.

Mr. Vincent Harrison

The airport feedback to passengers is that they should contact the airline in the first instance. The airlines have their booking details.

Does Mr. Harrison have an oversight, for example, of the number of unclaimed bags in Dublin Airport today?

Mr. Vincent Harrison

I do not have a precise number. Using the numbers that have been provided here today, I expect the number of bags would still be in the thousands.

I have just compiled some figures that the witnesses might be able to verify. Ryanair checks in few, if any, bags because it is a point-to-point service. Aer Lingus has 1,200 baggage claims still outstanding, Swissport has 100 and Sky Handling Partner has 2,897. That amounts to 4,197 baggage issues at Dublin Airport, or approximately 4,200 people at the moment whose baggage is outstanding. Is my quick calculation reasonably accurate?

Aer Lingus has capacity to do 700 baggage items per day and there are 450 coming through, so it has capacity to pull back 250. As I work it out, that means it will take five days to clear 1,200. The number for Swissport is very small and the witnesses reckon it will be done in the next week. Is that correct?

Mr. Tony Tully


Sky Handling Partner has 279 coming through per day and a capacity of 350, which means it can pull back 80. That gives it approximately 36 days to pull back the 2,900 outstanding baggage items.

Mr. Darren Moloney

That number is further reduced by the support we get from the airlines, which have dispatched teams to Dublin to assist.

We will take the figures I have given as being reasonably accurate. Will the Aer Lingus witnesses indicate how quickly they can pull back the 1,200 items and the Sky Handling Partner witnesses how long it will take to deal with the 2,897 outstanding claims? Will they indicate who passengers should contact in order to get access to their bags? I would also like to know the age profile of the baggage items. Of the 1,200 outstanding items at Aer Lingus, the 2,897 at Swift Handling Partner and the 100 at Swissport, how long are those items of baggage in storage at this point? Deputy O'Rourke might indicate which witnesses he would like to respond first.

Perhaps the witnesses from Aer Lingus will respond first.

I ask the witnesses to indicate whether I am correct in my figures.

Mr. Peter O'Neill

To clarify, our 1,200 open files are network-wide but we do all of the baggage repatriation through Dublin. It is not particularly a Dublin issue, per se. In terms of the ageing of bags versus new intake, it is quite complex because some of the items that are there longer are the ones I referred to earlier, where there may be missing documentation. It is more like an investigation process-----

Of the 1,200 items, what is the average length of time they are outstanding?

Mr. Peter O'Neill

It varies because we are clearing new bags very quickly, within 24 to 48 hours.

Does that mean the bulk of the outstanding items are historical? Are we talking about two or three months?

Mr. Peter O'Neill

I would not go as far as two or three months.

Will it be one or two months?

Mr. Peter O'Neill

One or two months at most.

How long will it take to pull them back and who should people contact?

Mr. Peter O'Neill

For passengers travelling with Aer Lingus who find their bag is not where they expect it to be when they arrive, they should go online and use the report my bag facility that we have launched on our website. They should create just one record. People are making multiple records at the moment, which is causing more confusion. That information feeds through to a world tracer application and all updates relating to the baggage are updated online.

What should people do if they want to speak to someone?

Mr. Peter O'Neill

As referred to earlier, our call centres are under significant pressure and we really encourage people to use the online facilities as much as possible. Locally, if the system is indicating that a passenger's luggage has arrived at Dublin Airport, he or she can come to the airport through the arrivals area and we will facilitate that. Where people have gone to their home destination in Ireland, we will courier the bag to them once we find it. Equally, where people have returned to their home country, we will courier it to them there.

Would Aer Lingus consider following up with a telephone call at a later time to people who have emailed the system?

Mr. Peter O'Neill

We do that but, obviously, our capacity to do it at the moment is constrained. The most efficient way is to deal with-----

We would ask that the calls be made. I really feel that is necessary in the circumstances.

Mr. Peter O'Neill

We acknowledge that.

I go next to Mr. Tully to indicate who people can contact in Swissport.

Mr. Tony Tully

We have email addresses set up and there are telephone numbers for people to contact as well. It is a combination of the two and we will always generally follow up with a telephone call once we have received an email.

Mr. Darren Moloney

Sky Handling Partner's website has the contact details and details of where to present and collect a bag.

Why is the level of baggage so high at Sky Handling Partner?

Mr. Gerry Kenny

It is because of the profile of airlines that we handle and the routings. As mentioned, some airports are having more trouble than others globally.

I will ask the obvious question. Why does Sky Handling Partner have nearly 28 times the number of bags that Swissport has at Dublin Airport? I know it is a hard question but it has to be asked.

Mr. Gerry Kenny

I note the earlier discussion on whether it was transfer baggage that was not making it to Dublin. To put it into context, we experience aircraft landing with passengers at times with no baggage loaded.

Planes are landing with no baggage at all.

Mr. Gerry Kenny

None at all. These are not transfer passengers. It depends on whether there were strikes in certain out-stations which obviously have their own resourcing challenges. In fact, some airlines choose on a daily basis which flights they are not going to load because they do not have the resourcing capability. Thankfully, that has not occurred out of Dublin to my knowledge, certainly from us. It makes the job in Dublin like trying to climb a sand dune. As soon as we start to make some progress through baggage, another aircraft could come in missing 60 bags or potentially missing all of its bags.

How long will it take Sky Handling Partner to pull back the 2,900 bags?

Mr. Gerry Kenny

We are allowing public access to the landside facility, which will help to speed up the process. The processing figures mentioned by Mr. Moloney do not include cases where we are able to escort passengers through to look at the baggage that is there and pull their bags out so that we can then close the files. We have been running this for more than a week and there are probably 50 to 60 passengers a day reunited with some or all of their baggage.

That means there are about 300 or 350 a week being pulled back.

Mr. Gerry Kenny

Yes, and that it is on top of what we can then process through systems.

It is going to take a minimum of a month to pull it back.

Mr. Gerry Kenny

It will.

On the issue of communicating with people, it is hugely frustrating to be without baggage. Some serious circumstances have arisen, including lost medical equipment. I have heard some difficult stories in recent weeks. The issue has filled the "Liveline" radio programme. Providing an online facility is fair to a point and there is an opportunity to improve it. I know of people who have engaged with the online option and they found it frustrating. They have presented in person and been doubly frustrated with that. Can the online interface be improved to let people know how they might pursue this?

That is not an unfair request for the committee to make. Will the witnesses make a commitment today to ensure that when people send an email their companies will respond with a phone call? This meeting has certainly shown that baggage handling is an integral part of the airline industry. This causes frustration for members of the public who in turn contact us. Will the companies give a commitment to follow up when people email them? The lack of human interaction has been the single, most frustrating feature in terms of our interaction with the public on this issue.

I welcome all our witnesses and thank them for being here.

I acknowledge that Senator Buttimer asked for this meeting.

My comments today and prior to this meeting did not arise from a desire to get cheap headlines but were born out of frustration and experiences in real time of family members, friends and customers of all those in this room. I will begin with an example. I received a letter this week from a person who said that their family, ten people in total, were to fly from Dublin to Faroe yesterday, 23 July at 7.45 a.m.

They arrived at the airport at 2 a.m. and checked in their luggage. At 7.30 a.m., they were informed that the flight was delayed for technical reasons. At 8.30 a.m., they were told the flight was delayed due to technical issues. At 9 a.m., they were sent to a different gate and told to wait for further updates. At 11 a.m., four members of the group were called up to the gate and given new boarding passes. On speaking to a staff member, the lead traveller managed to get on the flight to Portugal. The context of this email is that this left a member of the travelling public distraught and upset. I am a supporter of Aer Lingus and to be fair to the staff of the airline, they deserve huge credit and praise. However, the point I find most upsetting is this traveller reports that the staff could not have been ruder or more nonchalant.

I am not here to beat anybody up. I am a former chairman of an Oireachtas committee so I understand the Chairman’s job and our job. However, we have had a summer of discontent. Has any of the witnesses in this room spoken to, met with or called a member of the travelling public who has been discommoded?

We will go around the table, starting with Ms Embleton, then Mr. Harrison, Mr. Tully and then Mr. Moloney.

Ms Lynne Embleton

We have spoken with customers on a regular basis.

I ask Ms Embleton as the chief executive if she has spoken directly to members of the travelling public who have been discommoded this summer.

Ms Lynne Embleton

I have.

I thank Ms Embleton.

Ms Lynne Embleton

To come back to my previous comments, the scale of the disruption means that the call centres, contact centres and all the customer care that is normally in place are inundated. The same people who are trying to help customers with their cancelled flights are also being asked about missing luggage. The compounded effect of the issues we have spent the morning discussing is that we are not able to give the level of personalised care that we would like to give. It is in the DNA of everyone in Aer Lingus to care. Every bag matters. Every customer who is disrupted matters, which is why we have been adding resources, calling on volunteers and doing everything within our power to try to make the experience of customers better and when they are disrupted to try to look after them. However, the scale of the challenges means we are inundated with contacts.

Mr. Vincent Harrison

I absolutely have had contact directly. Clearly, the majority of contacts we get go through our normal channels but in many cases people reach out to me or to other members of the executive with their individual issues. Just yesterday, I had a very positive response from somebody who had contacted me in May with a high degree of anxiety in regard to a trip that had been made and issues with a passenger requiring assistance, who then having made a second trip reverted to confirm that the experience was much better and very different. One of the challenges we have as an airport, which has been highlighted today, is that we are often viewed as the last resort for communication. We certainly deal with all issues with sympathy but in many cases we need to refer people to other players.

Mr. Tony Tully

Yes, I have contact with members of the public on a regular basis, almost daily.

Mr. Darren Moloney

Yes, around the aircraft I meet passengers who are travelling out when their flight has been delayed. I also meet passengers regarding lost baggage, in particular where passengers have arrived into the country for critical personal events such as weddings where the bag has been in the hold. We have managed to locate those on several occasions. However, I am aware of the distress and concern this causes those affected.

I am heartened by that. On foot of what we have all said this morning, I wish to say that clear communication and personal interaction is what people crave in this case. It is important that the witnesses do that and instruct their staff to do it. Ms Embleton shouted from the rooftops, to use the words of the Chairman, in terms of being ready for this summer.

None of us anticipated the level of pent-up demand that would exist. By my tabulation up to the first week of July, Aer Lingus accounted for 72% to 73% of cancelled flights out of Dublin versus 2% or 3% for Ryanair and perhaps 26% for British Airways. If that was the case and given that the company was supposedly in a state of readiness for this summer, how is it that this week we are now in the current position with Aer Lingus flying out of Dublin Airport versus other airlines?

Ms Lynne Embleton

Aer Lingus is the network carrier out of Dublin Airport. If we were a point-to-point model right now, I do not think we would be having the summer that we are having. As I said earlier, we compare incredibly well to Air France, KLM, Lufthansa and some point-to-point carriers such as EasyJet. Our numbers compare very well, but every cancelled flight and every missed bag hurts and we are trying to minimise the disruption where we can.

I have a question about the working conditions in the Aer Lingus company. To be fair to Ms Embleton and her management team, they have had a series of negotiations with staff on new contracts and so forth. Some of us are being told that the atmosphere within the airline at present is toxic. That is according to an email I have, and I will not name the person who sent it to me. Another email I have received says that worker relationships in Aer Lingus are at an all-time low. These are from staff members. What is the current position with the latest rounds of negotiations with staff on the new proposals regarding rostering and staffing?

Ms Lynne Embleton

I will pass that question to Mr. O'Neill as well, but our people have had a torrid two years. For most of the two years they were not able to fly and do their jobs and look after customers. More recently, with the disruption we have been seeing, every day is a difficult day for our staff and they are going above and beyond at every opportunity. It has been incredibly difficult for them and for everybody in Aer Lingus. To the Senator's point, we are in discussions with all our work groups at present. Those discussions have been very productive in the main. Mr. O'Neill might wish to add to that.

Mr. Peter O'Neill

Just to continue that point about continued engagement with the staff groups and making good progress, some of the change items that may have been rejected in the past are actually implemented in practice, which is a testament to the people themselves getting on with it and putting their shoulders to the wheel. There is no underestimating the pain. We talk about it in respect of the airline and the finances, but the individual financial pain that all employees in Aer Lingus took is not forgotten by any means.

To be fair to the staff, they are tremendous ambassadors for Aer Lingus as a company. I am heartened by and welcome Ms Embleton's remarks today about the shamrock and the importance of Ireland to Aer Lingus. I hope that it can be translated on the ground.

The witnesses would expect me to finish with the issue of Cork Airport. I do not wish to be parochial but I will be.

As the late Thomas "Tip" O'Neill once said, all politics is local.

I invite Mr. Moriarty and Ms Embleton to come to Cork and I will happily bring them to Cork Airport to meet the staff there and the business interests in Cork. Cork Airport is very important. Since 2019-----

You are going great, Senator.

-----and I see Mr. Moriarty smiling because he knows what I am coming to next-----

Shannon had its say too.

Sorry, what airport is the Senator talking about?

The second busiest airport in the country and the one that has won the most awards for customer quality-----

Senator Buttimer, I have given you great latitude, but you are running out of runway very quickly.

In the context of Cork, Aer Lingus had four aircraft there and it has had two since 2019. I welcome the base being retained, but what are its plans for increasing the number of aircraft?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

I will comment on Cork. I know Cork very well, I know Cork Airport very well and I know Páirc Uí Chaoimh very well, so I am happy to visit at any time.

As regards the number of aircraft based in Cork, this refers back to the answer I gave a little earlier about Shannon. It relates to our short-haul fleet size and the seven aircraft reduction we had to implement as a result of Covid-19. The Senator will be aware that we have a strong level of service from Cork Airport. On the Cork to London-Heathrow route we normally have four per day. With the mandatory capacity reduction imposed by Heathrow Airport, it is typically three per day at present, but we are trying to re-accommodate those passengers on other flights usually out of Cork within the same day.

We are always open to the possibility of additional services from all our airports, but that is dependent upon aircraft availability and it also has to be assessed from the perspective of what is most viable and what is the most profitable deployment of the aircraft once we have it. However, currently we are constrained in terms of our fleet size.

Does Ms Embleton with to add anything?

Ms Lynne Embleton

The only thing I would add is that the damage in terms of debt that Aer Lingus took on during the pandemic and the damage to the balance sheet mean that while as airline people we like to fly and we want to grow, we must look at the capital constraints and our ability to access more aircraft.

Aer Lingus received Government funding during Covid-19 as well.

Ms Lynne Embleton

We continued to lose €1 million per day and the funding was in the form of a loan, which we have to pay back, so we have debt that we did not have before Covid-19. However, it is our desire to be able to justify more aircraft coming into the fleet.

In the context of that piece Ms Embleton spoke about, Emerald Airlines has taken over the Aer Lingus regional flights. Can she comment on its relationship with the regional airports, not just Cork? Regarding Cork Airport, services to Lisbon, Nice, Barcelona, Paris, Brussels and Geneva have ceased. The winter preparedness or winter planning is a little bare, from what I can see from a Cork perspective and perhaps from the perspective of others. I am concerned about the winter plans of Aer Lingus for our regional airports. The piece regarding Emerald Airlines, which we have not mentioned, is important as well.

Ms Lynne Embleton

I will start with Emerald Airlines and then pass to Mr. Moriarty. When Stobart Air went out of business, Emerald Airlines stepped up very quickly. We have worked extensively with Emerald Airlines over the past six to nine months to help it get ready and ensure it is ready. It has done an amazing job in getting its aeroplanes and crew in place. That has enabled the resumption of a lot of services that would have been lost otherwise with Stobart Air's demise.

Looking ahead to the winter, we know how seasonal the demand in and out of Ireland is. Where we see demand for the winter we will fly that demand and, again, we will be ready from a resource perspective.

Mr. Donal Moriarty

Much like we did last year in terms of our summer schedule, we would typically plan our summer schedule for summer 2023, which effectively starts-----

There is no service to Barcelona out of Cork, for example. That is a profitable route and Aer Lingus has had high load factors on that in the past.

Mr. Donal Moriarty

We plan our summer schedule and, typically, we announce it in the October timeframe. All those considerations will be factored into what is the most effective and profitable deployment of the assets we have available, which are aircraft.

What about winter flights to the sun out of Cork? Again, there was a high load factor in the past. Is that tied down?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

What we are flying this winter is effectively tied down at present, but with regard to summer 2023, which commences at the start of April, those decisions will be made and announced in the October-November timeframe.

I thank the witnesses and thank them for attending the meeting.

I wish to follow up on one thing. Am I correct that Aer Lingus had four flights from Cork to Heathrow and three flights from Shannon?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

Yes, that is correct.

How many are there from Dublin?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

Currently, it is nine.

I have what would appear to be a simple question. If Aer Lingus were to ignore Heathrow and the cap and continued to fly, what are the implications?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

I heard reference to that earlier, Chairman. It was with regard to a specific airline that indicated it would ignore the cap, but it ultimately agreed with Heathrow Airport that it would implement the cap.

I am not aware of any-----

We will not go any further then. Dublin has nine daily flights, Cork has four and Shannon has three. My understanding is that 43 have been curtailed in Dublin, 12 in Cork and 11 in Shannon. Is this correct?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

Those figures are effective as of 20 July. They have increased slightly since then.

It is slightly disproportionate with Shannon. Obviously it is something you are looking at. Am I correct that Aer Lingus is committed to the Shannon to Heathrow route in the long term? Is that a fair statement?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

It is on sale for the next 11 months-----

You will appreciate being a Deputy from Limerick in the mid-west, I have to-----

Mr. Donal Moriarty

I might go back to the earlier comment. It is our ability to reaccommodate passengers as efficiently as possible for them that really drives our decision.

We accept that. On the issue of transatlantic flights, will daily flights to Boston and New York continue for the year?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

There is normally a brief hiatus between mid-January and mid-February. This is typically for demand reasons but also for required aircraft maintenance reasons. We would expect our normal profile to continue.

Are you finding the load factors quite good on the flights both to Heathrow and the transatlantic flights from Shannon?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

In summer, things are good.

I asked an initial question about the voucher scheme. During Covid-19, Aer Lingus gave vouchers to passengers. Members are being told these are restricted only to people being able to get departing flights out of Ireland in euro currency. Is Aer Lingus looking at allowing that to be flexible so that people can use those vouchers coming into or out of Ireland?

Ms Lynne Embleton

I have absolute sympathy with that position. What happened of course over Covid-19 is that vouchers were almost invented as a solution to the extreme levels of disruption. The IT systems needed to be build to accommodate these vouchers. The more straightforward redemption of these vouchers is for those which are in a currency that is easier for the system to handle-----

And going in the same direction.

Ms Lynne Embleton

-----and going in the same direction. Commercially or from a customer's perspective, we would like to accommodate much more flexibility and we are adding capability into our systems all the time to enable us to deal with this. It was a quick response to a crisis-----

When do you think the systems will be sufficiently flexible that people can use the voucher to fly in and out of Ireland, and in different currencies as well?

Ms Lynne Embleton

I would not like to give a commitment on that right now but it is on our radar and is something we can get back to committee members on.

Thank you. We have to conclude now. I will let Senator Horkan in to ask a pinpoint question and Deputy Ó Murchú.

There is now an additional Aircoach-type service that goes from Dundrum to the Red Cow to Dublin Airport but in advance of the metro in 2034, how much more can the DAA do on public transport? How much engagement does it have and equally, how much more parking can be provided? I think there are times when airport parking is almost at full capacity. Can the DAA outline where it is with the parking and where it is hoping to get to?

Mr. Vincent Harrison

Approximately 83% of public transport connections and frequencies have returned to the airport. We still have reduced capacity and that is a particular problem in the early hours of the morning, which impacts both staff going to the airport every day and passengers arriving early.

Does this relate to any particular operators?

Mr. Vincent Harrison

A number of operators have not restored their services. We would deal with the National Transport Authority as to whether they are going to encourage those operators or to retender those routes. Then there are frequencies that need to return to viability. The DAA will be looking to put incentives in place to facilitate that.

Where BusConnects is being introduced, we are actively promoting that the Swords corridor and access to the airport be accelerated. I recommend this to the committee. In relation to car parking, the primary capacity issue has been the removal of a car park not operated by Dublin Airport. This facility is now for sale. We expect it to come into operation at some point when that concludes.

Very quickly, Deputy Ó Murchú.

Ms Embleton spoke about the difficulties being caused by people arriving early to check-in. The advice is still two and a half hours for short haul, three and a half hours for long haul, plus an hour for bag drop or whatever else. However, Mr. Harrison said people should contact the airline in relation to when they will be opening. We need to give clarified advice on this and what will work. How big an issue does Ms Embleton think this is?

Ms Lynne Embleton

This is a chicken and egg issue. We have customers trying to fly in the morning and they are behind customers in the queue who are flying many hours later. That clearly causes queues and congestion in check-in and in security that would not be there if everyone turned up in sequenced time for their flights. It is causing us an issue and causing congestion. It causes customer angst when they arrive at the airport and see a queue. I can understand the chicken and egg nature of this but the quicker we can-----

What advice would work?

Ms Lynne Embleton

We would prefer customers to turn up much closer to the time of departure.

So we are moving towards the hour, dare I say it, Ms Embleton.

From Ms Embleton's point of view, is the advice still to contact the airline? Or would you prefer not to get any more calls?

Security is a function of the airport.

Mr. Vincent Harrison

The advice we provide in Dublin Airport is very consistent with that given across other airports in Europe currently. In virtually all of those cases they have extended the time. We have the difficulty of giving a one-size-fits-all message which needs to cover passengers who might be leaving early in the morning when times are very busy, and in the early afternoon when they are not. The airlines have the individual contact mechanism with passengers if they want to issue bespoke messages at different times. For example, if you are checking a bag in or not checking a bag in, your process through the airport is quite different. We need to give a consistent message across all the carriers and all of the passengers. There is scope for tailored messages if any of the airlines wish to do so.

In the context of that conflict of advice, the August bank holiday weekend is coming. I congratulate DAA on the Hopper award this week which ranked Dublin Airport as the fourth best performing airport in Europe. I am glad we have come from the debacle of early summer to this. Do you envisage going back to where we were in the August weekend? Can we have confidence we will not be where we were?

Mr. Vincent Harrison

Yes. I have given that assurance earlier. We do not see this weekend as being a particularly busier weekend than any recent weekends. We expect the same level of service to be provided as in recent days and weeks.

Has DAA taken the comments of others today on the cleanliness and the tidying up at the airport on board?

Mr. Vincent Harrison

We absolutely have.

In the context of the winter and the ongoing global aviation issue and given the centrality of that airport to the airline, the Heathrow slot has created huge problems for Aer Lingus. From an Aer Lingus perspective, does the airline have confidence in the resilience of the airport and ground handlers for the winter?

Mr. Donal Moriarty

Obviously our business is a seasonal business Senator, and summer is the busiest time. There should be some alleviation that manifests itself throughout the system, including at Dublin Airport, from the October period onwards. The resourcing issues referenced earlier across the wider aviation system will take some time to work through. It is not entirely clear when they will be fully resolved.

It is not entirely clear when they will be fully resolved. We would expect that they will be resolved prior to next summer, but for a business like ours, which is seasonal, we would expect to see alleviation manifest itself in the October period.

I thank Mr. Moriarty.

With that, I thank the witnesses from Aer Lingus, DAA, Swissport UK and Ireland and Sky Handling Partner for assisting the committee with this important matter. We are elected by the public to represent them. What has come across today is that this is an ecosystem. This is why it is so important that the representatives of the airline, the DAA and the baggage handlers were here today. It enabled us to get a full understanding of this issue. What we would like to see regarding baggage handling concerns communication with people. I think it is fair to say that many of the 4,100 bags in Dublin Airport now have been there for a while. This is a reasonable statement. We, therefore, ask that there be further engagement, preferably by phone, to address measures in this area. The DAA has made great strides. There are other issues that need to be addressed but we acknowledge the improvements that have been made.

We see Aer Lingus as one of our national carrier. It is exceptionally important to our connectivity. Can we take it that once the Heathrow cap lifts in October that Aer Lingus will be back to flying at full capacity and that there will be no restrictions at that point?

Ms Lynne Embleton

That is our intention.

We ask the baggage handling company to write to us formally regarding the issue concerning non-EU licence holders and vetting. We will follow up. We hold hearings on this issue early in the autumn. In the meantime, if we can in any way assist in getting extra staff in place to expedite the baggage handler issue, we would be happy to help. The committee will continue to keep a close interest in this matter and will advocate for all appropriate resources and efforts be applied to address the problems arising in the context of air travel for passengers.

In the context of this committee, I thank Mr. Tom Sheridan, who is moving to fresh pastures. I thank him for all the great work he has done. I thank Mr. Larkin, Mr. Keohane and Ms Bollard for the work they and all the staff have done. We wish everyone the best and hope they will have a good break over the holidays. Our next meeting will be in September when Dáil and Seanad sittings resume. I thank the members for all their work this term and I wish them all an enjoyable break. They might hold on for a few moments before leaving the room.

The joint committee adjourned at 1.57 p.m. sine die.