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Six hour queues at Heathrow as passengers face ‘crippling’ Covid checks

Airport bosses have called on the Government to provide more resources to deal with the queues (Picture: @nivachou/Tom Warwick)


Passengers are having to queue for up to six hours to get through passport control at Heathrow because of the time coronavirus checks are taking, airport bosses have claimed. Emma Gilthorpe, who runs the airport, called on the Government to provide more resources so that all the border desks could be manned to reduce the waiting time. Passengers have complained that the queues are making a mockery of the Government’s hotel quarantine policy because thousands of people are being packed together with little social distancing. The airport has been compared by some to a ‘petri-dish’ because of the risk of infection spreading among people standing in close quarters.

Ms Gilthorpe told the Commons Home Affairs Committee on Wednesday Border Force was already under a ‘huge amount of pressure’ at the airport and there were ‘unacceptable levels of queueing’. Ms Gilthorpe said: ‘We are seeing significant pressure on the border and we are seeing very long queues and that is a worry.’ She later added: ‘Now it is not uncommon to see queues of three hours and we have had queues extending out to nearly six hours on occasion. ‘The extra layers that have been introduced are crippling the resourcing capability that Border Force has in place.’

The airport – which typically sees 80 million passengers in a year – presently has around 10-15% of its normal volume of travellers, the committee heard. The aim is for EU passengers to wait no longer than 25 minutes, or 45 minutes for non-EU travellers, at the border. Delays have increased ever since the London Olympics in 2012, and queues of up to two hours before the pandemic were common so there had been a ‘big push’, with the Home Office and Border Force to improve the situation, Ms Gilthorpe said.


Covid compliance checks – like ensuring travellers have filled in a passenger locator form, have pre-departure test results, can justify their travel and whether they need to go into hotel quarantine after coming from a red list country – need to be made digital ‘rapidly’ so that E-gates can reopen and boost capacity, she added. –