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Luggage systems collapse at Sheremetyevo Moscow passengers spend hours waiting for bags after salary cuts led airport luggage loaders to quit en masse

Source: Meduza
Valery Sharifulin / TASS

Over the weekend, the luggage transport systems in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport collapsed, and passengers found themselves waiting for hours to pick up their suitcases. Numerous departing flights also experienced substantial delays. Airport representatives said the holdup was caused by the start of the summer vacation season and that the problem would be solved by the end of the month. However, individual airline and airport employees have said that the luggage bottleneck actually stemmed from a labor shortage after porters quit en masse due to salary cuts.

Passengers at Sheremetyevo Airport have had to wait hours for checked bags

On June 1, passengers arriving at Sheremetyevo began complaining that they could not pick up their luggage. Ruslan, a passenger flying from Istanbul on an Aeroflot flight, told Meduza that the crew of his airplane waited about half an hour to receive permission to park, and then passengers waited for two and a half additional hours at baggage claim in Terminal F. Ruslan said passengers who had arrived from Minsk and Phuket were waiting at the same carousel. “I can’t quote exactly what the [airport] employee said. But the idea was that there was just no one to work,” he told Meduza.

Sheremetyevo representatives confirmed that there had been problems in Terminal F, but passengers waiting for their bags in Terminals D and E also complained of delays.

Irina Vishnevskaya arrived at Sheremetyevo’s Terminal E from Belgrade on an Air Serbia flight. She waited about two hours for her luggage. “Passengers from Heraklion were waiting at the same carousel,” Vishnevskaya said. “I was happy that at least I had found my suitcase. My last flight from Athens was delayed by an hour. I had 50 minutes for my layover in Belgrade. And that flight was delayed a bit too. So I was the last one to get to the plane, and I thought they just wouldn’t have time to transfer my bag.”

The next day, June 2, the situation was no better. An Aeroflot flight from Tashkent arrived at Sheremetyevo at 6:25 PM. For the next four hours, Ksenia waited for her bags in Terminal D. “People got to be extremely aggressive. There were transfer passengers, passengers with infants waiting for their strollers… Four hours with an infant in your arms in Terminal D, where there isn’t even anywhere to sit!” Ksenia exclaimed. “I was nearby when Aeroflot employees called the Sheremetyevo Handling company, and they asked a company representative to come out and talk to people. They refused!”

Ksenia was only able to retrieve her luggage the next day after returning to the airport. “I spent half the day calling all kinds of phone numbers, and I couldn’t get any good information even though I have Aeroflot’s Gold Elite level.”

Both the baggage claim and bag check processes have been delayed

Sheremetyevo officials said the situation was related to “peak loads at the height of the tourism season.” They promised to solve the luggage transport problem by the end of the month and noted that “the system of luggage processing and transport in the airport functions entirely under the airport’s own administrative control.” However, passengers flying out of the airport have experienced luggage problems as well.

Alexandra’s flight to Helsinki was scheduled to fly out of Terminal D on June 1 at 10:50 AM. She arrived at the airport at 8:30. Alexandra was checked in and wanted to check a bag, but the line to drop it off was already very long. Alexandra had to wait about an hour, and during that time, the number of people waiting with her multiplied. She said that every several minutes, an airline employee would walk along the line and shout out the numbers of flights whose passengers would have to hurry. Those passengers were ushered to a separate drop-off point.

“Sometimes, the airport employees who were supposed to guide passengers to open desks just stood there and looked at their phones,” Alexandra told Meduza. “Of course, everybody was on their last nerve. Toward the end, the passengers started trying to take care of the situation themselves, trying to regulate who would go where. At one point, the carousel stopped in the middle of a bag dropoff. Everyone waited for it to start moving again. You could tell that the girls at check-in were on the edge too. Some of them had tears in their eyes, and some of them just looked ready to scream.”

Viktoria flew on a Belavia flight to Minsk on June 2. It was delayed for two hours because passenger luggage could not be loaded onto the flight. “There were 104 people plus the anxiety and nerves of those 104 people’s friends and family. Some of them had connections in Minsk. Two Belavia flights didn’t take off on time... It’s not hard to calculate how many people got pulled into this chaos,” Viktoria told Meduza. “To quote the employee who was standing by the jet bridge, ‘There are not enough resources in the airport to load passenger baggage. We’re also stuck here with you. You can contact the [airport] administration and write a complaint.’”

There are not enough porters at the airport — they started quitting after their salaries were cut by 30 – 40 percent

On-the-ground services for passengers and airplanes are provided at the airport by a company called Sheremetyevo Handling. It was registered in 2002 and belongs to the Sheremetyevo International Airport shareholders’ group.

Until November of 2018, Aeroflot serviced its own flights. Then, according to the Russian business database SPARK-Interfax, the company signed a contract with Sheremetyevo Handling. An anonymous source within Aeroflot told Meduza that for a few months, Aeroflot’s on-the-ground transport department and Sheremetyevo Handling serviced the airline’s flights together. When that work was transferred fully to Sheremetyevo Handling, employees’ salaries were cut, and they began to quit. “A lot of people aren’t happy. They’ve got a big business, especially with porters. They hire unexperienced employees and don’t teach them anything. I can’t say [whether other companies have the same problem], but Aeroflot is a priority here,” the source said.

“Porters are quitting nonstop, sometimes up to 60 people a day. They ask for a lot, but they don’t want to pay. They cut salaries by 30 – 40 percent, and people started running away. The bosses blow everything up. They fine you for whatever they can. People have to take on more tasks, so they make mistakes, and they get more penalties,” said an anonymous source close to Sheremetyevo Handling’s staff. The source also noted that problems began in January after Aeroflot’s ground transport department was dissolved and many of its employees quit.

Sheremetyevo’s press service declined to confirm or deny claims of staffing problems. Aviation industry sources told Kommersant and Vedomosti that there was indeed a severe lack of porters at the airport. According to the job board and the airport’s official group on Facebook, the company has been searching for new porters since May 27 at a monthly starting salary of 45,000 rubles ($690).

Transport prosecutors are currently investigating potential passengers’ rights violations at the airport.

Kristina Safonova

Translation by Hilah Kohen