Travelers visiting friends and family for the Easter long weekend could be left without their luggage for days as airlines and airports continue to struggle with staff shortages.
The busy holiday travel period combined with Covid isolation orders and a workforce cut and outsourced during the pandemic has resulted in chaotic scenes at airports across Australia, and many passengers arriving at their destinations without their luggage.
Guardian Australia reported on Thursday that some plans were only being half loaded with checked luggage to ensure flights were not significantly delayed, with passengers told to expect their luggage in the coming days.
“Decisions were made to have these flights depart without baggage to ensure that customers could get to their destination and not face long flight delays or cancellations,” a Qantas spokesperson said on Friday.
The bags would be put on later flights and then sent to customers by courier.
“We really appreciate people’s patience and understanding and apology for the inconvenience,” the spokesperson said.
Despite warnings from airlines and airports to get in early, long queues at check-in counters were reported again on Friday as more travelers set off on their long weekends.
Customers had been warned to arrive three hours ahead of their flights as airports around the country expected to remain busy over the Easter and school holiday period.
“Queues expected to ease towards midday and peak again into the afternoon,” Sydney Airport tweeted on Friday.
It is the second week in a row of airport delays, with the Easter long weekend adding to the delays experienced during the first week of school holidays.
Michael Kaine, the national secretary of the Transport Workers’ Union, held a press conference with outsourced Qantas workers at Sydney airport on Thursday and linked the decision to outsource 2,000 baggage handling roles with the “catastrophic scenes” at airports.
“Those 2,000 workers are ready, willing and able to come back to work but Qantas is not putting them back on, and now we’re seeing this panicked response,” Kaine told ABC.
A Qantas spokesperson told Guardian Australia: “We reject the union’s claims that these disruptions are linked to the decision 18 months ago to outsource our ground handling at airports.”
The spokesperson said between 20% and 50% of employees in some areas have been unable to work due to Covid-related staff shortages, and noted these issues were “happening across many areas of the aviation industry including in other airlines, in airport security screening and in other countries”.
A Qantas spokesperson said Good Friday had been busy for the airline but travelers had heard the message to arrive early.
More than 200 head office managers volunteered to help out over the long weekend to ease the pressure.
Sydney airport had forecast 79,000 passengers would pass through the airport on Friday, with 56,000, 62,000 and 72,000 predicted for the remainder of the long weekend.
Geoff Culbert, Sydney airport’s chief executive, said the airport was “pulling every lever available” to ease the issues, including having senior staff working in the terminal to manage queues, but travelers have been urged to arrive two hours prior to their flight departure time .
Monday is expected to be Hobart’s busiest-ever day for flights, with more than 81 plans coming and going.
Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide airports have all reported passenger numbers not seen since prior to the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Additional security screening lanes were opened at Sydney’s Qantas domestic terminal on Good Friday, and Jetstar has begun using larger Boeing 787 Dreamliners for its Melbourne to Cairns and the Gold Coast routes. These plans are usually reserved for international flights.
With the relaxing of coronavirus restrictions, Australians were set to spend $7.1bn this holiday season, according to research conducted by Roy Morgan.
More than four million Australians had planned a trip away this Easter, with 63% traveling within their own state and more than one-third heading interstate.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism