Airlines expect Christmas passenger numbers at Dublin Airport to near their summer peak as travellers take advantage of the first Covid-free festive season since 2019.
Between 30,000 and 50,000 people could fly out of Dublin on different days over the holiday, Reid Moody, Aer Lingus chief strategy and planning officer, told politicians on Wednesday. “That’s similar to peak summer levels,” he said.
The likely surge in passenger numbers has prompted concerns that last summer’s security queues at the airport could be repeated.
Aer Lingus expects similar demand for transatlantic flights to 2019, but 20 per cent fewer on European services, partly because looming strikes in Britain have deterred some travellers.
Ryanair has already confirmed that it expects 12 per cent more passengers at Dublin than over Christmas 2019.
Aer Lingus executives told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport that DAA had outlined its Christmas plans to airlines at a meeting on Tuesday.
Asked by the committee chairman, Fine Gael TD Kieran O’Donnell, if he had confidence in DAA’s plans, Peter O’Neill, Aer Lingus chief operating officer, responded that it was “hard to express confidence in somebody else’s numbers”.
DAA calculates that 45,000 people will depart Dublin on busier days over Christmas. Catherine Gubbins, interim chief executive, told the committee last week that the airport handled similar numbers through the summer, when more than 97 per cent of passengers got through security in 30 minutes or less.
Michael O’Leary, Ryanair chief executive, recently sought guarantees from DAA that it will keep all 15 security lanes in terminal one open between 5am and 6pm from December 15th to January 9th.
Ryanair said that DAA did not provide it with the assurances sought on security at Tuesday’s meeting and added that its position remained the same.
The airport operator maintains that keeping all security lanes open all the time is not the most efficient approach, and that airlines’ hour-by-hour forecasts will determine how this is managed.
DAA will have 610 security staff available to work over Christmas. The company will offer overtime to these employees, while contingency plans include deploying management and other non-frontline workers to security if they are needed.
Meanwhile, Mr O’Neill acknowledged that some flight cancellations were inevitable during last weekend’s icy snap, but argued that they could have been kept to a minimum.
Some 140 flights were cancelled at the airport on Friday while bad weather hit a further 50 on Saturday.
He said that icy conditions on airport ramps and aprons, where aircraft are prepared for take-off, prevented some departures. Aer Lingus has also pointed out that snow and sleet made de-icing aircraft more challenging.
“The runways were clear, but the supporting infrastructure at the airport was not as clear as we would have liked it,” he said.
Aer Lingus got 90 per cent of its scheduled flights off on Friday while 96 per cent departed from Dublin on Saturday, according to Mr O’Neill. He told the committee that DAA put its hands up to problems with supporting infrastructure.
A DAA spokesman pointed out that the company was responsible for runways and taxiways, while airlines had charge of de-icing aircraft.
“We acknowledge that the sub-zero conditions, coupled with high humidity on Friday morning, made ice clearance a real challenge for the whole airport community,” he said.
“However, the runways and taxiways remained open and fully operational throughout the weekend.”