Chris Woodruff, Managing Director of Manchester Airport
According to the hub’s new boss, passengers at Manchester Airport appear to have been told to arrive three hours before their flight for the rest of the summer. Managing Director Chris Woodruff told Manchester Evening News that customers have experienced a ‘poor’ experience and acknowledged that long peak-time queues will continue in the coming months – but they have promised to ‘take passengers on their way’ as the holiday season progresses.
Less than two weeks into the job, after the departure of his predecessor Karen Smart, Mr. Woodruff is realistic about the challenges ahead because the hub has emerged from an epidemic that has crippled the travel industry, leading to rows in Manchester that have stretched to car parks, missing luggage, flights. Police rescued after the flight failed and the trip of thousands of passengers was canceled via text message.
But the former Gatwick boss also sounded a note of cautious optimism for a brighter future ahead.
“It won’t be as good as we want it to be, it won’t be as good as 2019 but what it will be is good enough compared to three or four weeks ago,” he said.
“For two days I asked the staff, what questions do you have for me? One of the obvious ones was ‘What attracted you to come to Manchester Airport?’ And of course this is almost a question I was surprised to ask in the same way because you got this huge opportunity to pick up my airport in the north of England, when I grew up and turned it into something amazing. “
Front row at Manchester Airport (file photo)
Mr Woodruff acknowledged that not everyone shares his ‘positive feelings’ about the hub of his youth, but said his response to his appointment included an appeal to him to ‘make it better’. “You feel like Manchester is behind you,” he said. “The people of the north are behind you. They want Manchester to be better, they’re sorry for what happened in the last few months, but it’s about looking ahead and making the best of it.
Originally from Widnes, Cheshire, Mr Woodruff, a trade engineer, was chief operating officer at London Gatwick from 2016 to 2020. His most recent role was in Chevron traffic management, where he was responsible for overall increase in operational performance and driving.
He admitted that he did not fly too far from Manchester late, but said that staff who regularly travel through the hub reported a ‘pretty decent experience’.
He added: “We have big problems behind us earlier this year. Again, in 11 days, can we say that this is going to be like 2019? No, it’s still going to be a tough time, we’re still on the recruitment ramp-up and as a result, the security officers are going to be fairly new and they’re still finding their feet but you can see the positive steps to the right. Direction.
“This is going to be a reasonable experience for most passengers this summer.”
Mr Woodruff said his priority was to “move people away on their holidays without much cancellation”, adding: “I’m sure we’ve all done what we can to align ourselves to get in their way. It will not be the perfect experience that I would like it to be but it will be much better than the beginning of this year and the important thing is that they will get in their way. “
Regarding requests for passengers to arrive three hours before their flight, Mr Woodruff insisted that arrivals should be three hours ‘on the nose’, as passengers who arrive early may be ‘helpless’ as they leave too late.
Front row at Manchester Airport (file photo)
So how will the rows be in the summer?
In the previous role of new director at Gatwick, the criteria for safety queues in 2019 was to get 95 percent of passengers within five minutes. In Manchester, it was 92pc in 15 minutes. It was expected that the £ 1 billion conversion of Terminal 2 to a high-tech ‘super hub’ would step up these figures, but the epidemic delayed its opening before the travel ban, leading to massive redundancies and staff crises as passenger demand increased. .
As a result, Manchester is now aiming for the safety of 93 per cent of passengers in less than 30 minutes. It is expected to rise to 95 percent soon. With 50,000 passengers expected to travel through the hub every day, some will still be queuing ‘up to an hour’ during peak hours, it has been predicted.
“I don’t want people to imagine I’m satisfied with 95 percent of passengers in 30 minutes. It’s realistic to have what summer offers, ”the new director said. “It simply came to our notice then.
But passengers’ complaints go beyond security, luggage handling, check-in, immigration, delays and cancellations – all the responsibility of Hub’s partner companies and airlines. To that end, Mr Woodruff said he had already met with Swissport, the UK handling agent, and the managing director of ABM, the bosses of the special aid agency PRM and DHL.
“What I want to open up is a dialogue that says we’re having these conversations about where we are because that way we can help each other be more successful.
Chris Woodruff discusses the drones that caused chaos in Gatwick in 2018
How will the labor crisis improve?
The key to getting this ‘reasonable position’ is to have enough staff to deal with the ‘emergence’ of post-epidemic passengers after massive redundancies due to Covid’s travel ban. Many of the workers who left the hub have now found other jobs.
More than a thousand workers have been hired to replace them this year. 500 of them are now on the floor. Another 500 are currently going through security and background checks.
The staffing crisis has hit not only Manchester Airports Group (MAG), but also many of its partner companies, including baggage handlers and airlines. It was conducted when reports of travel chaos were at their worst, with a lot of money, occasionally spotlight falling on air traffic control, official vetting delays and overcrowding.
“What’s interesting is that the whole industry didn’t have to hire so many people in 2022 and I very much hope it will never happen again,” the new boss said. “It’s turned on like a switch so it doesn’t matter where you look, in the process of background testing or interviewing new people, it doesn’t matter what business you’re looking at, airports, airlines, ground handlers – it’s a huge ramp-up delivery and that’s it. Not one that no one has done before
Everyone, Mr Woodruff argues, is ‘behind the curve’. “And passengers have had a bad experience as a result. I’m looking forward, we don’t have to do this in 2023, we won’t try to double or triple the size of the workforce, we’ll get back to a more general process and set up better in the summer to give a similar experience to 2023, 2019.
What will be the future of Manchester Airport?
Even before the epidemic, Manchester Airport’s reputation was tarnished during turbulent times. Rows are not a new phenomenon, since the introduction of drop-off charges in 2019, their increase since then, other fees such as parking fees and trolley-charging, have long been a feature of passenger reviews.
But Mr Woodruff’s goal is to ‘move Manchester Airport from where it was in 2019 and admit that not all of it was perfect’. The one-liner hub, the UK’s global gateway to the north, said the ambition was to “make that sentence a reality”, adding: “Do I think there’s anything I need other than a security line? Yes, I did. “
Referring to the investment in Terminal Two as a sign that the hub is starting to compete on the ‘global stage’, he acknowledged that ‘a lot of work needs to be done’ to ensure it was the ideal experience for passengers. He said infrastructure investment needs to continue, when security lines are brought under control they will look at ‘how Manchester Airport can be further improved’.
He added: “I don’t think these are pipe dreams, I think it’s possible. Airlines are going to compete with each other for passengers, it’s right and correct, but it’s not in anyone’s interest to have a bad experience in general, so we have to find a way to tell if one or the other has a hard day, there is a way to sweep it from the passenger’s point of view Granted, they don’t notice. “