Manchester Airport Busy Times: Trying to predict if there are big queues today

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TLDR: It is a bit hit and miss due to the current situation

We have all seen how awful Manchester Airport is at the moment, and that's putting it politely.

Post pandemic staffing issues and continued covid related sickness leave mean that both the airport and flight operators are woefully understaffed. This is causing massive queues and the recommendation that you arrive 3 hours early.

TUI seem to be one of the worst culprits for massive queues when it comes to checking your bag. There have been many reports of people queueing out into the streets.

Most airlines are only opening the bag check-in 3 hours before the flight, which seems madness considering the current issue. I am not sure why other operators haven't introduced a twilight check-in service similar to Jet2.

Some have argued that the continued press attention has fuelled the problem, like all the panic buying. There have been reports of people turning up at the airport 8 hours in advance, which makes security even busier for the early flights.

It feels like there is no let-up in the problem either. This has been going on since mid-March, and we are past Easter and the May day bank holiday. However, problems persisted throughout Tuesday the 3rd of May.

Manchester has reported that staffing issues will take months to resolve due to the lengthy security checks that need to be carried out on the new staff. I don't imagine applying for a job there is very appealing at the moment either.

I have been due to go on holiday, and like most people, this whole situation has been causing me a lot of anxiety. We had originally paid for checked luggage but now decided to pack as lightly as possible and take carry on luggage, skipping one of the biggest problems within the airport.

I have also been obsessively checking Twitter to see what the current situation is like on various days.

One possible solution to give you an idea of the busy times is the Google popular times features.

Update: Latest Estimated Security Waiting Times on the Manchester Airport Website

Recently, Manchester Airport rolled out estimated security waiting times which are viewable on the homepage of manchesterairport.co.uk.

I am not convinced how accurate they are. At 12pm Tuesday they are stating:

  • T1: 5-15 mins
  • T2: 5-15 mins
  • T3: 5-15 mins

This obviously doesn't factor in queues to check in your bags.

How to view Google popular times

There are a few ways to access Google popular times.

  • When you search for a place, such as Manchester Airport, either on your phone or desktop, you will be shown the Google Rich Card for the business. If you scroll down, there will be a small graph showing you the popular times.
  • In Google Maps, you can do the same. On mobile, you need to scroll down a bit, and it is below the reviews, whereas on desktop, it is above both photos and reviews.  

You can then view the live data or the data based on past trends. You can select days, and if you are accessing the popular times from a normal web search, you should be able to click on the time. This will then say things like:

  • Usually as busy as it gets
  • Usually a little busy
  • Usually not too busy

Unfortunately, there are a few issues with this. The live data may not correspond accurately with the past trends, and I assume Google is not updating this graph on a regular basis.

The graph itself only goes up to “Usually as busy as it gets”, I have been looking at the live data for morning flights, and the graph doesn't seem to peak any higher than the past trends. This would not be accurate based on recent reports.

You also can't get live data from the terminals. T3 has just opened, and that's where Ryanair fly from, but most people seem to be talking about T1 and T2. Surprisingly I have not seen that many people complain on Twitter about Ryanair, which makes a change.

Manchester Airport popular times trend vs live data

The historical popular times trend for most days is about what you would expect.

All days seem to follow a similar trend:

  • 3 am to 4 am – it is not too busy.
  • From 5 am, it quickly ramps up until 7 am, when it reaches as busy as it gets.
  • It stays this way until about 2 pm until it reaches a low point at the end of the day at 12 am.
  • Saturday & Sunday deviate from the trend slightly, they are busier earlier, the graph doesn't peak quite as early but seems to be consistently more busy throughout the morning and early afternoon until 3 pm.

Busiest Days

Again, I had hoped I could use this data to provide some relief with me flying mid-week. My assumption was that Thursday/Friday/Saturday/Sunday would be the busiest due to weekend breaks, especially stag/hen does etc.

  • This does appear to be accurate. The graph indicates Thursday is the busiest day at Manchester airport. From about 6 am to 4 pm, it is consistently busy.
  • Friday appears to be the next busiest.
  • Then Saturday and Sunday look less busy than Thursday/Friday, but the graph indicates it is consistently busy, with Sunday appearing to peak at around 2 pm/3 pm.

Live Date

Annoyingly, the live data has not consistently tracked the past trends. I have only been randomly checking it, but on Tuesday the 3rd, the live data was very different from the trend.

  • At 4 pm, it indicated it was busier than the normal busiest times.
  • It was still very busy at 7 pm.

Which basically ruined what I hoped would be some useful information on planning when to get the airport.

On the bright side, at the time of writing, the live data is actually below the past trends. Maybe Wednesday will turn out to be the quietest day at Manchester airport.

Look at past flights for some idea of delays

Flight history for Jet2 flight LS891 via FlightRadar24

Again, not super accurate, but flight numbers are normally unique for the route, not a single flight. You can therefore search for your flight number and look to see if it has been delayed flying.

This, of course, won't help you work out if the airport itself is busy, but it can help indicate if there are persistent problems with that flight.

Flightradar24 shows the scheduled departure time and actual departure time as well as scheduled/actual land times.

So, for example, picking a random Jet2 flight to Lanzarote [LS891], it looks like Jet2 have been doing quite well. Out of the past 7 flights, only one has landed 17 mins late. Almost all have departed late but only by mins or so. Nowhere near as bad as the 1 hour+ delays I keep hearing about on Twitter.

TUI are a little harder, they use weird flight numbers beginning with TOM, but the flight numbers used by tracking websites begin with BY. There is also not much historical data on them.

Overall

Google popular times isn’t quite as useful as I had hoped. It is possible to use the current live data to try and predict if the airport is busier than normal prior to you setting off, but there is no guarantee that it won't be incredibly busy when you get there.

There is no data on individual terminal times.

Wednesday looks like it will be the least busy day, and then the airport is the least busy the later in the afternoon it gets.

Thursday looks to be the busiest day, followed by Friday, so you should prepare for the worst on these days. Similarly, Saturday and Sunday are busy throughout the day.

Using your flight number for previous flight times might give you an indication of persistent problems with that specific flight and the operator itself.

Featured Image via Twitter

Update: My Experience

I have recently returned from my trip to Porto and a summary of my experience was:

  • The flight was late Wednesday, which is a quiet time. We had fast track tickets and get through within 5 mins. The main queue was close to the gates where you scan your boarding ticket. Busy but not too bad.
  • Terminal 3 was incredibly busy and hot. The queue for the bar took about 20 mins or so to get served. The T3 escape lounge was fully booked.
  • Our flight was two hours late, which meant we sat around for 5 hours.
  • The reduced number of staff appears to be causing flight delays that get increasingly long throughout the day. Each incoming flight seems to be adding a little extra to the delay.
  • Porto airport had no issues with security or check-in.
  • Again, the late return flight was delayed about 30 mins or so.
  • Thankfully, landing late meant that both customs and baggage pick up were quick and easy.
  • The new Drop and Go car park is surprisingly good, about the only redeeming feature of Manchester Airport.

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