After weeks of listening to the personal and painful accounts of others in the long and testing queues at Dublin Airport, last week our own turn came to experience the current ‘joys’ surrounding the state of our capital city airport. A family wedding in Italy meant we had occasion to travel to the runways there last Thursday and attempt a visit to the city of Naples in southern Italy.
With up to 50,000 people a day travelling through it at peak times, the terminals in north Dublin are simply thronged way beyond capacity, and like everyone else, we were well warned to get up at the crack of dawn in anticipation of a challenging day.
The first practical issue that hits you before you even head to the airport nowadays is the parking situation there. I should admit firstly that I have never been a great fan of parking at Dublin Airport anyway. As a first-time holiday maker in my early 20s, I absolutely hated just how far away one had to park a car there to get some sort of a reasonable price rate, and then traipse back at all hours of the day or night by bus from the very long-range, long-term stay car park in search of a terminal. “We’re parked on the way into Drogheda” was an oft-heard whinge in our house as we flew away!
The omens for last week were not good from the outset. On the first google search, the price for five nights and five days in that attractive concrete jungle was coming in at over €140 – enough to extend a wedding trip to a sixth night if one really wanted to do so. By the Wednesday, there appeared to be no parking spaces at all left in the airport, but at that stage I had already long made the decision to abandon the parking lots altogether, instead seeking refuge in a nearby residential area where a good family friend kindly agreed to give us shelter in their drive.
This bit of Christian charity and good luck should have set the tone for what was shaping up as a potentially most enjoyable break away from Ireland’s damp and miserable summer weather, but I’m afraid that tone changed dramatically after arriving at the airport for our flights.
The days of using the ramp for arrivals or departures are long a thing of the past now. With all access to the main terminal ramps now solidly blocked off, we were carefully steered to the back of the short-term parking lot building and the bus and coach drop-off slots to start our weary journey into the airport. I’m not sure how many readers of this column have actually been inside that external building recently, but in the old days, there was just a shop and a cafe in the mall of the small centre, where one walked through the aisle before passing the parking payment machines, crossing the road, and just heading straight into the departures area of the ‘real’ airport ahead.
Nowadays, that entrance route is firmly cut off, I’m afraid. Instead of letting you walk in the back door, one is steered towards the back of one of the bus shelters outside and onwards through a newly knocked-out hole in the wall of the building, which in turn brings you into the ground floor of what used to be the indoor short-term car parks.
On Thursday last, that car park was providing the holding area for the first of the queues one was about to experience. Crash barriers guided the lines over and back across the parking lot, before finally bringing the lucky passengers back onto the route of the old building’s central aisle and onto an escalator that transported us on up to the top floor of the same building.
During all of this time, remember one is still not actually inside the main building. In fact, when one arrives at the top of the escalator, the next diversion sends the lucky flyers out onto the roof of the short-term car park, where the next queue has already formed.
The striking thing about the layout up here is the presence of several newly-erected marquees on the roof – clearly installed to offer shelter to the poor people queuing in a typical Irish summer. But their route is still blocked to the main terminal 1 building by a number of staff, who seemed to be operating a stop-and-go system of letting blocks of flyers out of the car park and finally across the road bridge into the check-in building.
We took our place at the start of the first queue at 3.10 pm on the way onto this first building. We reckoned it had taken us just twenty minutes to get through the first set of queues outside before we finally emerged onto the airport proper, but I’m afraid it was here the real trauma begins.
Going into the terminal building, the plane passengers are divided into two different queues, with those having to drop off luggage for the hold being steered to a queue on the right and the people with just carry-on luggage heading left onto a somewhat longer queue going inside the same building.
To be honest, the queue for the automated self-service back check-in area was not long at all. With the bag tags now safely stuck onto our luggage and the bags dropped, we turned around again and headed for the other end of the terminal. There was trouble ahead…
It seemed at one stage on Thursday that the queue for the main security check-in departure gates was now covering just over 50% of the total area available on this floor. Areas best known for check-ins with other airlines seemed to have been taken over purely for queuing line purposes, and over the next hour, we began our ‘worm-like’ trawl and trail around every inch of the terminal building, in a queue that – to be fair – was moving most of the time, while stretched out as far as the eye could see.
The mood among most of passengers was surprisingly good. Most of the flyers we encountered were not giving out or moaning, but playing their part instead in keeping the queues moving. From time to time, that positivity was shattered by the sight of a single passenger or sometimes a couple emerging in a fluster from behind us in the queue and ducking and diving through the lines in an apparent bid to jump to the top of the queue, all the while extending apologies towards those blocking their way and lamenting the fact they were very late and about to miss their flight.
In the course of the 80-minute journey from the outside car parks into and past the security checks on Thursday, I think we only saw one person responding in a rude or unpleasant way to any of these late passengers, or indeed any staff in their way. Most travellers were pleasantly understanding of the situation, and delighted to hear that while this new queuing system was indeed slow, it was still a long way better that the absolute chaos witnessed in the same airport three weeks ago, when the entire building was clogged solid over three days, leading to hundreds missing their flights and onward connections to many exotic corners of the world.
Not all was good in the experience on Thursday, but there was clearly a plan in place to avoid the chaos of recent weeks. We witnessed security check-in zones that were still closed and unmanned on part of our journeys, toilets and areas that had clearly not been cleaned up, and weary staff who were clearly under pressure as they tried to do their job. But we also met people with smiles on their faces, showing courtesy when very few around them were doing so, and many who were doing their utmost to help fellow passengers.
We arrived safely in Naples airport at 10.45 pm on Thursday night, and were most relieved to have survived the crowds and queuing ordeals that were going on. One wonders if some of the airlines dealing with the scramble in the skies could not have done more to relieve the numbers by offering alternative routes and time slots to those who were prepared to wait, or perhaps travel instead on connected flights through Shannon, Cork, or even Knock Airport to get them out of the external queue that awaited them in Dublin. But above all, we wondered had anything really changed in the mad, mad world of international tourism and travel after the pandemic.
It is clear from news reports worldwide that what we witnessed in Dublin Airport last week is in fact happening all over the world. Three years of restrained holiday-making has clearly come to an end after Covid-19, and it seems that half of Ireland is now making up for all those missed sun holidays by taking them all at the one time this summer. If you’re heading the same way soon, prepare for the above, because it’s not going away. Bon voyage!