Air passengers described ‘total chaos’ at Heathrow’s £4.2billion Terminal 5 today as rows broke out in passport control and exasperated people who had already spent hours waiting to enter Britain then had to wait in long lines for the car park, MailOnline can reveal.
Witnesses said they had ‘never seen anything like it’ as ‘massive queues’ also appeared at Luton and Manchester airports and travellers raged that the country is fast becoming an international ‘laughing stock’.
One woman caught up in the chaos described rows in arrivals at Heathrow – and to add insult to injury, a wait of 30 minutes just to get to their parked cars.
She told MailOnline: ‘I’ve never seen anything like it. There were massive queues’, adding there were ‘arguments breaking out with staff about the number of broken e-gates’. ‘It seems like the whole terminal is in total chaos’, she said, adding she had to queue for half an hour just to get in the lift that goes to the car park.
Catriona MacLeod, an academic from the University of Chicago, tweeted that after an hour at the UK border she had ‘not advanced more than 6 inches’. Another woman caught in the chaos wrote: ‘@HeathrowAirport is like Dante’s purgatory’.
The delays have got worse as families returned from their summer holidays for the start of the school term, one traveller collapsed after landing in London and luggage was seen tumbling from conveyor belts because queues at ‘poorly managed’ arrivals halls were up to five hours with Heathrow bosses blaming the ‘unacceptable’ waiting times this weekend on Border Force staff shortages.
Queues snaked through arrivals at Luton at 1am today – but the airport, amid anger from passengers, pointed the finger at border officials carrying out ‘additional checks’. There were similar scenes at Manchester airport’s Terminal 2 – back open after a £1 billion revamp. One elderly passenger is said to have fainted as the queues piled up with many forced to wait for hours.
Yesterday the Home Office, which runs Britain’s under fire Border Force, finally admitted the near-daily queues were ‘unacceptable’, MPs and travel industry figures demanded meaningful action, warning the chaotic scenes were blighting the UK’s global reputation while running the risk of a spike in Covid cases – further jeopardising the already crisis-hit tourism sector and stifling business with the post-Brexit UK.
Former Cabinet minister John Redwood told MailOnline that he believes Priti Patel has already told Border Force and the airports to get the situation ‘sorted’ – but said she may now need to exert even more pressure as queues formed despite relatively low numbers travelling.
She said: ‘It is not as if the passenger volumes are huge. The management has to have a good look and see what needs to be done. It doesn’t create a good impression. You want people to have a smooth return from holiday and you want business people to have a good progress through the system now we are trying to rebuild.
‘We also want vigilance at our borders. You don’t want to sacrifice safety so you have got to have sufficient resource so that it is done properly,’ he said.
‘But any UK national who has got the right documentation shouldn’t have to hang around… It has got to be a better service for British taxpayers who pay for all this. ‘You go to a foreign country to win business to Britain or go for a foreign holiday, you expect to be able to get back into your country easily. But we also expect a vigilant border force.’
‘Dante’s Purgatory’: Heathrow passenger likens today’s chaos at Terminal 5 to the Divine Comedy, an epic 14th century poem about a man’s journey through hell.
Queue chaos: Dozens of passengers line up to get through immigration gates at Heathrow Terminal 5 today
There was even a long queue for the Heathrow T5 car park today for people who had already been waiting for hours to get through passport control
Queues at just before 1am today at Luton Airport today as the queues at arrivals spread from Heathrow to across the UK
Meanwhile, in Manchester, there were also delays at Manchester Airport. Passengers were seen standing in long snaking queues leading up to border control at the airport’s newly refurbished terminal (pictured)
Pictures show luggage piled up on conveyor belts and floors because passengers were caught up in queues
One image even appears to show a male traveller lying on the floor in Heathrow’s Terminal 5 on Friday night after passing out while queueing
Anastasia Tolmacova filmed the chaos at Luton Airport at 1am this morning, with hundreds of people queuing through the terminal where social distancing went out of the window.
She said: ‘Massive queues at London Luton airport past midnight. Any social distancing is virtually impossible. Why do we have to pay extra for overpriced covid tests when the situation at the border is so poorly managed?’
Double-jabbed fliers should be free to travel WITHOUT Covid tests, says Gatwick airport boss – as figures show UK airline numbers bouncing back slower than rest of Europe
Newly released comparable data shows UK aviation sector is recovering slower than EU
Airport bosses at Gatwick have called for the testing of double jabbed travellers to be scrapped as he says the UK aviation sector is bouncing back much slower than the rest of Europe.
The airport says that comparable data shows the UK is suffering as a result of the requirement.
The current rules mean even those who have been double jabbed and are flying in from a green-list country must provide proof of a negative Covid test within two days of landing in the UK.
The airport says bookings in Europe – where testing regulations are more relaxed – are at 60 per cent of pre-Covid levels while they remain at 30 per cent in the UK.
In a statement, the airport said it was calling on the Government to ‘throw a lifeline’ to the UK aviation industry by removing the requirement for testing altogether for travellers who have been double vaccinated.
The airport says that with proof, double vaccinated travellers can currently enter the majority of European countries without needing to be tested, including in France, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Germany, among others.
It has proposed that passengers who are not double vaccinated should have to take a lateral flow test and then, if that is positive, take a PCR test.
Quarantine should remain for those flying in from red list countries, it has said.
Stewart Wingate, Gatwick CEO, said: ‘With vaccination rates across Europe comparable, if not better, than the UK’s, the time has come for testing to be removed altogether for travellers who have been double jabbed.
‘Other countries have done this and their aviation sectors are recovering much faster with bookings in Europe recovering twice as fast as in the UK.
‘Our continued travel restrictions are out of step with much of Europe and continue to have a real impact on jobs and livelihoods, business and growth opportunities while also keeping friends and family apart.
‘Passenger confidence in the UK has been shattered and the UK travel industry urgently needs thrown a lifeline so that we can start to recover properly from the most difficult period in our history.’
The scenes of passengers queuing at UK airports have sparked furious demands for ministers to intervene. MPs and travel industry figures last night demanded a meaningful response from Home Secretary Priti Patel and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, saying the chaotic scenes were blighting the UK’s global reputation and running the risk of a spike in Covid cases.
Luton Airport said the delays were not their fault. A spokesman said: ‘We’re sorry for any inconvenience caused by additional checks at the UK Border. Border Force is responsible for this part of the journey and we continue to work with them to ensure wait times are reduced as much as possible’.
Paul Charles, of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said ministers appeared to be ‘deliberately sowing complexity around global travel’. ‘How does it look to other countries?’ he said. ‘It sends the message that Britain is not fit for purpose.’
Henry Smith, Tory chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on general aviation, said: ‘More resources need to be put into managing the chaos at the border at Heathrow, otherwise it could lead to increased risk of Covid transmission.’
Dr Steven Freudmann, former president of ABTA, said the images of chaos at Britain’s biggest airport made the country look like a ‘laughing stock’.
Among those caught up in the disruption at Heathrow was Jason Reed, who said he and his pregnant wife had to wait for two hours to get through arrivals after returning from holiday in Malta.
‘It was absolute carnage,’ he told the Sunday Telegraph. ‘My wife is pregnant and has a bad back so was uncomfortable and tired. It was also extremely hot with no ventilation.
‘We saw a man had fainted – with lots of police around.’
Mr Reed said when they finally got to the front of the queue, no-one bothered to check their passenger locator forms declaring that they hadn’t been to a high-risk country.
Some passengers arriving on Friday evening reported delays of up to five hours, although the Home Office contested this.
At Manchester yesterday, businessman Ian McCarter complained of having to wait for three hours to get through passport control.
Mr McCarter, who was arriving back from a week in Dubai with his wife and two youngest children – aged 16 and ten – described the scene which met them as ‘chaos’.
‘We got off the plane and found ourselves penned into a tight space with 200 to 300 people – it was ridiculous,’ said the 52-year-old businessman, who lives near Wigan.
‘Everyone was being shoved along like cattle, it was really warm, and not surprisingly a lot of passengers were starting to get quite agitated.
‘There needs to be more resources and more staff otherwise travelling abroad just becomes a very off-putting experience.’
Furious Heathrow arrivals have slammed the government over the border queue chaos at the airport – with yet more passenger backlogs seen today – less than 24 hours after Home Office chiefs branded wait-times as ‘unacceptable’.
Arrivals at the London airport this morning say they are facing ‘horrific’ queues to get through to the border area of Terminal 3.
One arrival posted a scathing attack on the Home Office yesterday, saying in a Tweet: ‘Still horrific queues at Heathrow’s T3 this morning. It’s inhumane to force the disabled and children especially to stand for hours! Where’s the promised improvement?’.
Another arrival posted a picture on Twitter from the arrivals area today showing a line of people packed into a hallway. The picture shows a sign urging passengers to ‘have your passports ready’.
It comes as The Home Office finally admitted yesterday that massive queues at the airport’s Terminal 5, where people including a pregnant woman fainted on Friday night, were ‘unacceptable’.
Meanwhile, in Manchester, there were also delays at Manchester Airport yesterday. Passengers were seen standing in long snaking queues leading up to border control.
Pictures also showed luggage and suitcases overflowing from the conveyor belts and strewn across the floor at arrivals the terminal, which has recently undergone a £1billion refurbishment.
The strongly-worded statement from the Home Office on the border chaos at Heathrow came after a furious blame-game broke out yesterday.
It followed the posting of pictures on social media showing thousands of British arrivals being forced to cram into small hallways with no social distancing measures in place and queueing for several hours to pass immigration.
One holidaymaker, Sonny Singh, told Sky News he saw a pregnant woman pass out while in the queue on Friday night.
Furious Heathrow arrivals are complaining of yet more queues at the Heathrow today, less than 24 hours after Home Office chiefs branded the wait-time chaos at the airport as ‘unacceptable’. Pictured: One Twitter user, John O’Hara, posted this image on Twitter today
Another wrote: ‘Still horrific queues at Heathrow’s T3 this morning. It’s inhumane to force the disabled and children especially to stand for hours! Where’s the promised improvement?’
The queueing chaos at Heathrow airport continued overnight, with incensed British holidaymakers complained of the risk of spreading Covid as hundreds of passengers were rammed into small hallways and forced to queue for up to five hours
‘There were thousands of families queuing and just two people in booths up front checking documents,’ he claimed.
‘Children were screaming and crying. The queue moved about five feet in the space of about 45 minutes.
‘Then, when the pregnant woman fainted, it finally got through to someone somewhere – the kids were then put on the side to sit while the adults waited in the queue and it began moving faster.’
One photo even appears to show a male traveller lying on the floor in the London airport after apparently passing out while queueing for passport control, amid claims that stressed holidaymakers had no access to ventilation or toilets, and no shuttles were available.
Have YOU been waiting hours to get through immigration at Heathrow?
Send photos and videos of the queues to [email protected]
An incensed passenger queueing for hours to get to immigration at Heathrow tweeted on Friday night: ‘Kids crying and screaming and fully grown [men] fainting whilst two people at the booth serving thousands of people queuing up to the runway.’
Astonishingly, Heathrow has twice admitted that they have no idea how long it will take passengers to pass through immigration.
The border chaos has been compounded by the fact that families with children aged under 12 can’t use the e-gates.
In a statement, a Heathrow spokeswoman blamed ‘unacceptable queueing times in immigration’ on ‘too few Border Force officers on duty’.
She claimed the Home Office ‘were aware of the extra demand’ and said they are ‘disappointed’ they didn’t provide ‘sufficient resource’.
‘We have additional Heathrow colleagues to support in managing queues and to hand out passenger welfare including water, but we need every immigration desk to be staffed at peak times.
‘We have escalated this with Border Force and expect them to provide a better service over the remainder of the weekend,’ the spokeswoman added.
Images on Twitter show huge lines of people packed together tightly – apparently without access to water, ventilation or toilets – while they queued for several hours to pass through immigration on yet another day of mayhem at Terminal 5
It has been claimed that a male holidaymaker fainted while standing in line for passport control while pregnant women, pensioners and young children were made to walk long distances with no shuttles available and no social distancing possible
Astonishingly, Heathrow yesterday admitted that they have no idea how long it will take passengers to pass through immigration. The chaos has been compounded by the fact families with children aged under 12 can’t use the e-gates
A Home Office spokesman admitted yesterday: ‘Throughout the pandemic we have been clear that queue times may be longer as we ensure all passengers are compliant with the health measures put in place to keep the UK public safe.
‘However, the very long wait times we saw at Heathrow (on Friday night) are unacceptable.
‘This is the busiest weekend of the year for returning passengers, with particularly high numbers of families with children under the age of 12 who cannot use e-gates.
Are they TRYING to make life hard? Industry expert accuses government of ‘sowing complexity’ to stop people from travelling abroad
A leading travel expert today accused the Government of ‘deliberately sowing complexity’ to discourage British nationals from going on overseas trips.
Paul Charles, CEO of the respected PC Agency, told MailOnline that the Government is ‘obsessing over Covid numbers and keeping them down at whatever cost’.
He said: ‘There’s certainly incompetence and mismanagement. But it does seem that the Government are trying to make international travel as difficult as possible for British holidaymakers wanting to get away.
‘I don’t think they don’t want people to leave this country because they’re obsessing over Covid numbers and keeping them down at whatever cost.
‘This is not a government famous for trying to reopen global travel. It has put the brakes on overseas travel throughout this pandemic, despite the industry clamouring for a proper reopening. Add the traffic light system and the testing regime to chaos at Heathrow, and it has the effect of putting people off from flying anywhere. And it’s working.
‘It does seem to me that they’re deliberately sowing complexity around global travel.’
Mr Charles added: ‘This weekend is one of the busiest weekends for travel into the UK after that long summer break and the week following the August bank holiday. Border Force either know that or they don’t.
‘They should have been planning for an increase in passengers coming through Heathrow, and it’s ridiculous that this has been allowed to happen yet again.
‘What kind of message does this send to the world about Britain? How does it look to other countries who are looking at those pictures and videos of big queues at Heathrow? Well I’ll tell you. It sends the message that Britain is not fit for purpose.’
‘Border Force is rapidly reviewing its rosters and capacity and flexibly deploying our staff across the airport to improve waiting times.
‘We are working very closely with Heathrow Airport and its airlines and we are all committed to making sure all passengers can have a safe and hassle-free journey.’
Asked about the queuing situation at Heathrow today, a spokesperson for the airport told MailOnline today that any request for comment would have to go to the Home Office who operate the border through the Border Force.
A spokesperson for Manchester Airport said: ‘We are aware that queues at the border have been longer than usual at times this weekend.
‘Immigration checks are the responsibility of UK Border Force and we will review events with them to understand how these circumstances arose, and to ensure that passengers enjoy the best possible experience going forward.’
Yesterday Tory MPs joined a growing backlash against the border chaos overseen by Home Secretary Priti Patel and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, while industry experts warn the huge queues are damaging Britain’s reputation as a hub for global travel.
Henry Smith, Tory chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on General Aviation, told MailOnline: ‘More resources need to be put into managing the chaos at the border at Heathrow, otherwise it could lead to increased risk of Covid transmission, a surge in cases and another crisis this winter.
‘These scenes are discouraging people from going abroad and are making safe international travel even harder. With fewer people willing to get on planes abroad or to come into the UK, I fear that the result of this will be further job losses in the aviation and hospitality sectors already devastated by what has already been two very difficult years.’
Paul Charles, CEO of the respected PC Agency, told MailOnline that Border Force should have known this weekend is one of the busiest for travel back into Britain after the summer period and August bank holiday week, and urged Miss Patel to ‘get a grip’.
He accused the Government of ‘incompetence’ and ‘making life so hard for those airlines who have experienced months of shutdown and are now trying to make travel as Covid-safe and seamless as possible for holidaymakers who frankly just want a break’.
Dr Steven Freudmann, former President of ABTA, said the images of chaos at Britain’s biggest airport make the country look like a ‘laughing stock’ and will ‘put people off from visiting’. He also called the mayhem a ‘disgrace’ and ‘totally predictable’.
Responding to criticism, the airport tweeted yesterday: ‘Whilst we do not have exact figures out how long queues can take our teams in the terminals are on hand to support where possible and we are working with Border Force to reduce delays as soon as possible.’
It then said this morning: ‘We are unable to provide information in regards to immigration queue times on behalf of UK Border Force, who operate and manage our immigration halls’.
Speaking to MailOnline, Lucy Moreton, spokeswoman for the Immigration Services Union, said: ‘Border Force, and in particular large airports like London Heathrow, have suffered from chronic under funding for some years. Although Border Force as whole has recruited almost 1,000 new officers in the last two years these have been paid for with EU exit money and directed solely to inland and international trade.
‘London Heathrow has had no inbound recruitment for many years but staff loss is still running between 10 and 20 per cent. Resources are understandably also stretched by the demands of small boats migration, Afghan re-settlement etc.
‘This, as well as normal staff sickness, leave demands and staff positive for Covid all contribute to reduced staff on a day by day basis.’
Heathrow’s summer of queuing chaos: So when WILL the government get a grip?
May 17 – Passengers flying into the UK faced ‘bedlam’ at the border with some facing a three hour wait at the Heathrow passport gates. Travellers told MailOnline how they were ‘terrified of catching Covid’ while being crammed into the airport’s border hall this morning.
July 12 – Passengers said they had ‘never seen anything like’ the queues at Heathrow Terminal 5 as officials blamed the scenes on staff having to self-isolate. A passenger said: ‘Total chaos at security at Heathrow airport T5 this morning. Never seen anything like it.’
July 20 – 90-minute queues were seen at arrivals after the government failed to update Passenger Locator Forms ahead of its ‘Freedom Day’ rule changes – resulting in double-jabbed Britons being rejected at e-gates.
August 2 – Queues of passengers stretched the entire length of Terminal 5. Officials again blamed staff having to self-isolate. A spokesman quoted figures showing that one in four Border Force guards were reported to be off sick with Covid or self-isolating.
29 – Three-hour waits were reported at passport control. A day later the Home Office risked fury as it said passengers ‘need to accept’ the risk of delays at peak times.
30 – One passenger describes the immigration process in Terminal 2 as ‘incompetent and ridiculous’, adding that he was forced to wait for more than five hours with ‘no water, no bathroom’
31 – One traveller wrote on Twitter that a queue for families with children had lasted three hours.
September 1-4 – Pictures and video show long snaking lines of travellers packed closely together with no social distancing, as some aired themselves with leaflets in an attempt to stay cool. There are reports of pregnant women and elderly people being forced to stand for hours, with no shuttle made available, and of a male passenger fainting in the queue.