Sydney International Airport has been in chaos as the reduced staff numbers are unable to handle the number of Aussies hoping to get away during the Easter holidays, with the queues for check-in and security ending outside.
For many Aussies, it would be the first time they have flown since the borders opened after almost two years of closures.
The airport had struggled with COVID close contact isolation rules, with airport staff initially not on the list of essential workers exempted from the rules. They were added to the list on April 8 to help deal with the staff shortages.
The airport’s security staff, under its security partner Certis Group, is also just beginning to rebuild its workforce.
However, the arrival of the Easter school holidays is expected to be the busiest period in two years.
Jeff Coleman, the CEO of Sydney Airport, apologised to travellers for the challenges and thanked everyone for their patience.
“We’re still 30 percent down on pre-COVID staff levels. We haven’t been able to get staff because there’s just not enough available people out there in the market,” Coleman told 2GB radio. “I think we’re all experiencing that across various sectors of the economy … We’re all we’re all fighting over the same pool of talent.”
On top of being unable to recruit staff, Coleman said the airport was seeing absenteeism of up to 20 percent of existing staff due to COVIDSafe policies.
“So we’ve been running it 60 percent of staff capacity over the last week, and we’re now back at 90 percent of passenger numbers, so you do the math, and that’s where your problem comes,” he said.
Coleman admitted that the issue would likely persist over the next coming weeks, as the problem of sourcing labour could not be solved at short notice.
“We’re actively out there in the market trying to fill these roles, but … these shortages will persist,” he said. “The queues are going to last until Easter long weekend.”
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said some delays were also due to travellers being “rusty” on the rules, with many forgetting to take out laptops and aerosol cans.
“At Sydney Airport, they’re telling us that around 10 percent of people pre-COVID used to have to be re-screened. Now that’s up to 30 percent,” Joyce told the ABC.
Greg Hay, the Sydney Airport general manager of operations, also noted that people were “a little out of practice” with security protocols.
“To help manage queues at security checkpoints and make sure everyone gets away on time, we’re encouraging domestic travellers to arrive two hours ahead of their scheduled departure,” Hay said in March.