Passengers landing at Heathrow Airport on Christmas Eve said they had to wait up to three hours to pass through passport control and waiting times exceeding two hours at immigration desks.
Disgruntled travellers said there was an obvious lack of Border Force staff on hand to cope with the festive rush and at least one terminal’s passport control was being manned by a single person.
The problems coincide with rail strikes which are likely to cause further trouble for people trying to reach loved ones this Christmas.
One man named Carlos Stebbings tweeted a photo showing people lining a corridor with their luggage as they waited to show their passports.
“Welcome to Heathrow Airport where after an eight-hour flight you have to queue for another hour to get through passport control,” he said.
“Why can’t this country do things right? #epicfail.”
Another traveller named Steve Maguire said only four immigration desks were manned by Border Force staff and questioned whether the shortage was caused by extra staff being needed in Dover to process migrants arriving in boats from France.
“Literally 4 windows out of around 35 were open (self check-in not available),” he wrote.
A third passenger, Gary Haldane, said there was only one immigration counter in use when he landed on Friday morning.
“Standard UK border patrol chaos at Heathrow. Six empty counters and one actually working in T5a,” he said “Maybe our plane turned up unexpectedly today.”
He said the issue stemmed from “a blatant lack of staff” and questioned why Heathrow wants to “build the infrastructure if you are not going to resource it appropriately?”
Tariq Aleem posted on Twitter at around 10am to say he was still queuing to have his passport checked more than three hours after his flight arrived in Terminal 2.
“Flight landed at 6:30am but still in the queue for immigration,” he said.
After Heathrow apologised to him for his long waiting time, he replied: “I appreciate it but can we work quickly also with more staff please?”
A representative for Heathrow Airport told The National that staff were working with Border Force to address the long waiting times.
Christmas Eve is usually one of the busiest days for travel and this year many people are desperate to reunite with their loved ones after journeys were cancelled last year due to Covid restrictions.
“Border Force is currently experiencing some delays processing passengers through the UK border,” the Heathrow representative said.
“Our teams are on-hand supporting passengers in the immigration halls and we are in-touch with Border Force to resolve the situation as quickly as possible.”
Border Force has been contacted for further comment.
A Home Office spokesperson said: "Our utmost priority is protecting the safety and health of the public. That means, occasionally, passengers will need to accept an increase in the time taken to cross the border.
“We will never compromise on border security and continue to fulfil our vital function of keeping the border secure and are deploying additional officers to provide support as and when required."
Another festive traveller affected by the delays questioned why Border Force did not bring in extra personnel to cope with the Christmas rush.
“You know which flights are coming in, and when,” Rian Sethi said. “You know the number of passengers on each flight. This is not a new issue. Why can Border Force not plan accordingly?”
Another woman who touched down in the west London airport on Friday took issue with the staff’s failure to check Covid documents.
“Just flew in from Muscat to Heathrow,” said Salma. “No one checked our passenger locator forms, or vaccination status, or even the PCR test that we booked and paid for in Oman. Not surprised at all.”
From Christmas Eve to December 30, the Piccadilly line — which connects the airport to central London — will be partly suspended, affecting all of Heathrow's terminals.
Passengers are advised to use TfL Rail, bus services or taxis if they do not drive. However, TfL has early closure on Christmas Eve, and TfL Rail services and buses do not run on Christmas Day.