Queues and delays 'unacceptable' at Heathrow, Government admits

Managers at Heathrow said the delays were 'unacceptable queuing times'

FILE PHOTO: A public health campaign message is displayed on an arrivals information board at Heathrow Airport, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), London, Britain, July 29, 2020. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo
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Hours-long queues for passengers landing at Heathrow Airport have become “unacceptable”, Britain's Home Office admitted on Saturday.

Passengers crammed into the arrival terminals said people, including a pregnant woman, had fainted in the queues, children were crying and there was no ventilation and no social distancing.

For a week there have been long lines at Heathrow immigration control areas but Saturday was the first time that the Home Office admitted anything other than the delays being the fallout from Covid rules.

Managers at Heathrow called the delays "unacceptable queuing times" but put the blame on the UK Border Force.

One Twitter user said: "There are people collapsing in Terminal 5 Arrivals due to overcrowding and no ventilation. Some Covid secure measures…"

Another criticised Border Force as being absent amid “horrendous kettling”.

"There were thousands of families queuing and just two people in booths up front checking documents," passenger Sonny Singh said. "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."

From July 19, the government relaxed some of the requirements for travel making destinations on its amber list of Covid nations more tempting.

On Saturday morning, Heathrow Airport tweeted that it could not say how long travellers would have to queue for immigration.

"We are very sorry that passengers faced unacceptable queuing times in immigration due to too few Border Force officers on duty,” a Heathrow spokesperson said.

"Border Force were aware of the extra demand from families and we are very disappointed that they did not 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 Home Office said it was the busiest weekend of the year but also called the delays “unacceptable”.

"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, a Home Office spokesman said.

“However, the very long wait times we saw at Heathrow last night are unacceptable… Border Force is rapidly reviewing its rosters and capacity and flexibly deploying our staff across the airport to improve waiting times."

Passengers arriving from amber list countries only need to isolate for 10 days on arrival in the UK and they can be released after day five with a negative test result.

Travellers coming from countries with amber status who have been fully vaccinated with inoculations approved and administered in the UK, EU and US do not have to self-isolate, but must provide a negative Covid-19 test within two days of arrival.

Passengers from countries on the UK's green list have to take a Covid test before and after arriving in the country. The red list means visitors returning to the UK have to quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days at a cost of £2,285 ($3,160) per person.

Updated: September 05, 2021, 3:53 AM