Airport Staff Shortages and DBS Checks

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We’ve all seen the images from British airports this summer, with queues of holiday makers waiting to collect their bags or have their passports checked. And you could argue that those are the lucky ones – the people who have made it to the airport without their flights being cancelled. The disruption is being put down to difficulties in hiring new staff after the pandemic, but what is really going on?


Travel in 2020

International travel was one of the first areas of the economy to be badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020. Many countries around the world shut their borders and banned international flights. In April 2019, over 40,000 flights took off and landed at London’s Heathrow airport. In April 2020, this number was slashed to less than 5,000. People who worked at airports across the UK were furloughed or made redundant. It has been a slow recovery for the travel sector, and many of the baggage handlers, check-in or cleaning staff who were made redundant in spring 2020 have moved on, finding employment in other market sectors.


Airport Recovery 2022 and Staffing Checks

Summer 2022 is a very different scenario to 2020, and millions of us are desperate for a break in the sun after two years of no travel. Airports have struggled to recruit staff to fill the vacancies, which has led to the delays we’ve all seen in news reports. Getting staff into position in an airport isn’t as straightforward as in other positions. This is because there is a higher degree of checking and vetting which is required for airport staff, especially for those working airside.

Airports are a “sensitive” location in terms of security. Potential terror attacks are the obvious risk, but concerns over smuggling, crime and illegal immigration are also considered. All staff have to go through a vetting process and the detail which the assessment will go into will depend on the position being applied for. All staff have a counter terrorism check, and in March, these were taking 20 days to turn around. Although the time has now decreased to around 5 days, this still means that an applicant can’t start work right away. A DBS check may also be required, and the level of check will again depend on the role. A basic DBS check, which verifies someone’s current criminal record only can be turned around fairly quickly but recruiting staff for passport control or security requires a more detailed check, which understandably takes longer.

Workers in any position in the UK will also have to go through a Right to Work check, proving their nationality and immigration status and right to be working legally in the UK. Employers might want to check references, or academic qualifications for some roles. With a large recruitment campaign ongoing, it’s easy to see how applications get backlogged, especially when office staff may also have found other positions since the pandemic. The only glimmer of hope is that by summer 2023, things should be a lot better.