Heathrow Airport was hit by lengthy queues of passengers caused by a glitch in its e-gates, with travellers reporting waiting times of up to four hours.
The London airport's management apologised to people stuck in corridors after arriving on flights on Wednesday morning. Some travellers had to stay on planes after landing while airport staff tried to clear the backlog of arrivals.
Heathrow, the UK’s busiest airport, has in recent weeks been blighted by huge queues caused by problems with e-gates and a shortage of staff to check people’s documents at immigration desks.
A spokesperson for Heathrow told The National that the failure of e-gates was part of a wider set of problems to hit Border Force’s nationwide electronic system this morning. Gatwick and Edinburgh airports were also affected.
“Earlier today, a systems failure impacted the e-gates, which are staffed and operated by Border Force,” an airport representative said.
“This issue, which impacted a number of ports of entry, has since been resolved and the e-gates at Heathrow are back up and running again. Our teams remain on hand and are working with Border Force to monitor the situation, and to get passengers on their way as quickly as possible."
Border Force is an immigration, customs and law enforcement team of the UK Home Office.
“This morning a technical issue affected e-gates at a number of ports. The issue was quickly identified and has now been resolved," a spokesperson for the Home Office told The National.
"We have been working hard to minimise disruption and continue to monitor the situation closely. We apologise to all passengers for the inconvenience caused."
E-gates enable passengers to bypass manual inspections by scanning their passports on a biometric system when they cross border control.
A man from Cheshire said he queued for four hours and demanded compensation over after he "missed a very important business meeting".
"More than likely I have now lost some potential new business and need compensation for," he tweeted.
One person said they flew in from New York on Wednesday morning to find “massive lines in immigration”. Another passenger reported a long wait in Terminal 5, where social distancing advice was impossible to observe.
“Unreal queues at @HeathrowAirport T5 immigration. E-Gates are down and ‘additional’ Covid checks need to be carried out is the reason given. Brilliant, thousands of people from all over the world crammed together in a queue, no social distancing etc. Embarrassing for the UK.”
Another frustrated traveller said she was with someone suffering from a “serious back injury” and airport staff had not given them any explanation for the “border control in utter chaos”.
One woman who uploaded a video of the queues said only six of the 25 passport scanners were in working order.
Another passenger, Thomas de Lucy, tweeted: “Not only are we waiting for two hours at passport control but Heathrow staff are all incredibly rude, shouting at people and ignoring others. Maybe a supervisor should be on hand to control staff behaviour.”
Earlier, Heathrow responded to complaints from passengers on social media. The airport wrote on Twitter: “We’re aware of an issue impacting the e-gates, which are staffed and operated by Border Force.
“We apologise for the impact this is having on your journey.
“Our teams are working closely with Border Force to resolve this as quickly as possible.”
In recent weeks and months, the relaxation of travel restrictions led to fears of increased waiting times at airports as authorities now require extra time to check people's proof of a negative Covid test.
A spokesperson for the government told The National that the responsibility for checking passengers’ Covid tests lies with airlines, while Border Force staff carry out secondary checks.
“Carriers have a critical role in carrying out primary checks on all passengers before boarding, checking people have the right Covid-19 certification documents to ensure we can continue to safeguard against new variants,” they said.
“Anyone not complying with health measures could face a fine and carriers are required to ensure proper checks are carried out.
“The vast majority of passengers are fully compliant with health regulations. Border Force checks will ensure this remains the case and will concentrate on those representing a higher risk.”