UK switches on more e-gates to shorten summer airport queues

Covid documents can be processed electronically in less than a minute

MNJF25 people arriving and entering UK through the e-passport border passport control gates at gatwick south terminal.
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UK airports began to turn on Covid-19 e-gates for travellers in an effort to relieve long queues at the border.

The measure comes as the government prepares to announce an updated green list on Thursday, which could feature some new quarantine-free destinations.

With summer approaching, ministers are under pressure to add European countries to the list, a move that would probably lead to more passengers and longer waiting times at airports while Covid-19 documents are processed.

The Home Office said some e-gates had been switched on at London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports, allowing passports and the passenger locator form to be checked digitally in less than a minute.

Although there are more than 40 e-gates in Heathrow Airport's terminals two and five to process green and amber list passengers, none were operational during the pandemic, leading to some arriving passengers queueing for more than six hours.

Most e-gates at Britain's airports will be switched on by the end of July, The Telegraph reported.

Gatwick, Birmingham and Manchester airports are on the same timetable and others will follow in July and August.

Lucy Moreton, professional officer for the ISU union that represents Border Force staff, said the e-gates would make it “much, much easier” to process passengers.

“E-gates do break and they can have a high rejection rate but there is no doubt it will massively help,” she said.

The Home Office said officials were "taking steps to ensure queue times at the border are reduced as far as possible".

“E-gates are now operational at Heathrow and Gatwick, and further e-gates will come online as and when they successfully complete testing,” it said.

A report in Politico, citing a Department for Transport (DfT) source, said on Wednesday that UK authorities were expecting waiting times of up to four hours at Heathrow over the summer, although DfT declined to comment.

Meanwhile, Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary said ministers should consider the success of Britain’s vaccination campaign when expanding the green list.

He said many European countries had “already removed restrictions on vaccinated UK visitors because of the vaccine success in the UK”.

“The spread of Covid, risk of hospitalisations, has collapsed due to the success of the UK vaccine programme, and it's now time for June, July and August – add Spain, add Italy, add Greece to the green list and allow British families to go abroad safely to Europe on their holidays,” he said.