‘It’s dark right now for everyone’: Manchester Airport workers describe a very different Christmas – but 2021 could bring new hope

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On Christmas Eve last year, as had become the annual tradition, a Manchester Evening News The reporter was at the airport to record and capture the poignant moments as families and loved ones gathered for the holiday season.
Their warm hugs, passionate kisses, and reckless abandonment with personal space may now seem like an alien concept.

At the time, Manchester Airport was celebrating one of the busiest Christmas periods in its 81-year history.

Between December 19 and January 5, 1.2 million passengers had to pass through its terminals. On December 27 alone, 78,500 travelers were expected.



Christmas Eve at Manchester Airport

Fast forward a year and on December 18, Manchester Airport issued its annual press release containing guidelines for passengers expecting an upsurge – albeit modest from previous years – among travelers at Christmas.

He predicted that more than 200,000 passengers would pass through its terminals between December 19 and January 3 – an average of more than 12,000 per day.

After a difficult year, during which peaks and troughs of covid infection, restrictions and quarantine requirements saw travel demand drop by up to 90%, employees are suffering a 10% pay cut and 465 Manchester workers find themselves at risk of dismissal. , the bosses may have hoped to recoup a small portion of their losses during the holiday season.

But with the weekend came another hammer blow – a new strain of Covid, up to 70% more virulent than those that have circulated throughout the year.



Christmas Eve at Manchester Airport

The announcement led to a list of dominoes from more than 40 countries imposing a travel ban on Britons.

Destinations now out of reach include Dublin, Tenerife, Amsterdam and Lanzarote, all on track to be among the top five destinations for travelers who book their flights for Christmas.

As of Wednesday alone, at least 24 outbound flights and 10 inbound services were canceled. Around 6,000 passengers passed through the terminals, about half of the expected number.

And on Christmas Eve when our reporter made his usual visit to the airport, he must have been faced with a very different scene from last year. Terminal 1 was quiet, the ground floor offices were closed and a handle remained open on the second floor. The passengers were calm, suspicious, resigned – although there were a few hugs.

Even before the new strain, Manchester Airport, along with thousands of businesses in the region, had made no secret of its difficulties.

At the onset of the pandemic, when severe travel restrictions were first imposed, a particularly calm day saw the airport handling just 16 passengers. Following a visit in April, Manchester Evening News journalist John Scheerhout summed up the mood; ‘desperate’.



Christmas Eve at Manchester Airport

In May, in the absence of clear operational guidelines from the government, Manchester bosses took matters into their own hands, becoming the first airport in the country to require passengers to cover their faces and wear gloves when traveling. launch of new “heat seeking” cameras. screen for high temperatures.

After the first wave, passengers resumed traveling abroad as the government released a list of countries with which it had agreed to ‘travel lanes’, meaning exceptions to the 14 isolation rule. days.

In September, the government introduced a more regionalized approach that distinguishes between individual islands and the mainland for destinations where infection rates differ. But it arrived at the twilight of the summer season, too late for many passengers to enjoy.



Christmas Eve at Manchester Airport

Then came the second nationwide lockdown – and a warning from Andy Burnham that some 65,000 jobs in and around the hub were at risk without further financial support.

In recent weeks, all but Terminal One have been closed, and with layoff consultations continuing amid the departure of those taking voluntary severance packages and high leave rates, 2020 has been an assault on Workforce. Turbulent times forced bosses to resort to huge increases in parking fees to make up for their losses.

But by December, workers say, a silver lining had appeared with the deployment of a vaccine, a new testing service for asymptomatic travelers to shorten the quarantine and the steady progress of the new Super Terminal, which is expected to be completed. next spring.



Christmas Eve at Manchester Airport

Cue the shocking news of a mutated strain.

A Manchester Airport employee, who asked not to be named, said: ‘He had actually taken over and was feeling better, but now he’s crashing again with all the cancellations.

“The flights took place without passengers – cargo only.

“There has already been a wave of layoffs and quite a few people have lost their jobs. You can only fire so many people, but at the same time, everyone is worried about their jobs right now. ”

Mark Bowcock, a firefighter at Manchester Airport, summed it up: “It’s dark right now for everyone, including the management team.

He added, “We just had a bunch of layoffs. This latest lockdown didn’t help us, and 40 countries that ban us had another effect on us.

“We were hoping that with the rollout of the vaccine and the reduction in the quarantine from 14 to five days if you had the test, that was a good sign – and now it’s happened, it’s just another bad news.

“There are not a lot of staff. The majority are on leave. It’s just dark. It’s usually very busy and there is a great vibe, but with the year we’ve been through it’s horrible for everyone. ”

It was also a disappointment for travelers hoping to spend Christmas abroad.



There were hugs on Christmas Eve.

One traveler said: “It was like droopy grass was flying through the terminal.

“I generally travel about ten to 15 times a year. I can’t resist the smell of jet fuel.

“Normally the terminal was busy in the morning, all the bars and restaurants were swarming, nowhere to sit.

“So to get there and see the deserted place, and walk straight through security, it was very strange. ”

The EU’s executive branch, the European Commission, has called on member states to lift travel bans – but it is up to each country to comply or not.

This follows months of appeals from the aviation industry, often led by the MAG group, for increased government support for airports like Manchester, which is partly owned by regional councils and employs more than 25,000 people on site.

The government responded by rolling out testing, lowering corporate tariffs and extending the leave program.

But as the country waits to see how the new Covid strain will affect patients, the NHS, lockdowns and life in general, there are fears that Manchester Airport struggles will once again become symbolic of the devastating impact of the pandemic on the economy of the region.

Bosses, however, insist the setback is only temporary.

There is no doubt that the staff, passengers, boards in Greater Manchester who partly own and benefit from the airport and the communities that depend on it share their hopes that 2021 will bring aviation back to life.

A Manchester Airport spokesperson said in a statement on Wednesday: ” The Covid-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the global aviation industry.

Since the pandemic first took hold in March, we have worked closely with the government to create an enabling environment for passengers to safely resume flying. This includes the introduction of security measures throughout the airport, the launch of the government Test to Release program, and the opening of our on-site testing facility.

“These developments have put our industry in a good position to start on a path to a gradual recovery, although the winter season is significantly less busy than one would normally expect.

“Clearly, the imposition of temporary restrictions at many of our most popular destinations has delayed this recovery in the short term, and passengers will unfortunately experience further disruption during the Christmas season.

“However, we look forward to working closely with the government in the new year to make sure everything is in place for Britain to fly again ahead of the summer season. ”

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