The Home Office has admitted that long queues for immigration checks at Heathrow have been “unacceptable”, after the airport criticised Border Force for delays facing passengers.
Heathrow said that Border Force, which manages the checkpoint at the airport, knew there would be extra demand and said they were “very disappointed” that they did not have enough staff on duty on Friday night.
Since Monday passengers have complained of waiting times of up to five hours, as well as a lack of social distancing and access to toilets and water during a process they described as “incompetent” and “ridiculous”.
Many have taken to social media to share their discontent. Garry Hadiwibowo wrote on Twitter that the system was “shambles”, with babies crying, families arguing, and “only 2 desks open”.
Adina Chirodea reported that people were collapsing “due to overcrowding and no ventilation” in the queues.
In response to the complaints, a spokesperson for Heathrow apologised for the wait times on Saturday afternoon, while laying the blame squarely with the government agency.
She said: “We are very sorry that passengers faced unacceptable queuing times in immigration last night due to too few Border Force officers on duty.
“Border Force were aware of the extra demand from families and we were very disappointed that they did not provide sufficient resource.
“Additional Heathrow colleagues supported in managing queues and handed 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.”
A Home Office spokesperson also acknowledged that the wait times were “unacceptable” and said that Border Force was actively working to improve them.
They said: “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. However, the very long wait times we saw at Heathrow last night are unacceptable.
“This is the busiest weekend of the year for returning passengers, with particularly high numbers of families with children under the age of 12 who cannot use e-gates.”
The Home Office said Border Force was “rapidly reviewing” its rosters, capacity and flexibility to deploy staff at the airport to improve waiting times.
The spokesperson added the Home Office was working “very closely” with Heathrow Airport, and that all parties involved were “committed to making sure all passengers can have a safe and hassle-free journey”.
Despite the apologies and commitments, passengers arriving at Heathrow continued to complain of long wait times and limited numbers of Border Force agents as of 7.20pm on Saturday.
Twitter user @sannaayaah said: “Same chaos once again at Heathrow arrivals!! Couple hundred passengers waiting in lines since 2 hours and only 2 officers available at Border Control!!”
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