Border Force gates back online after outage chaos as Home Office rules out cyber threat

Pictures show queues at Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, Edinburgh and Manchester

Huge queues snake through Gatwick amid 'nationwide issue’ with airport e-gates

The Home Office confirmed that it has resolved a nationwide issue with Border Force passport e-gates after an outage caused chaos at airports across Britain.

It also clarified that the glitch in the border control systems was not a cyber attack.

Airports on Tuesday saw long queues and delays after the country’s Border Force passport e-gates were hit by a nationwide glitch. “eGates at UK airports came back online shortly after midnight,” a Home Office spokesperson said in a statement early on Wednesday.

“As soon as engineers detected a wider system network issue at 7.44pm last night, a large scale contingency response was activated within six minutes.

“At no point was border security compromised, and there is no indication of malicious cyber activity.”

Pictures on social media showed enormous queues in front of the gates at Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, Edinburgh and Manchester as thousands waited for their passports to be checked.

The Home Office spokesperson also apologised to “travellers caught up in disruption” and thanked “partners, including airlines for their cooperation and support” during the outage.

Paul Curievici, a traveller from Surrey, experienced delays at the Gatwick Airport after landing from Lyon on Tuesday. He waited in line for almost an hour at passport control though he found the prioritization of fast-track passengers frustrating.

“There was an awkward moment – half of us had been funnelled into the ‘all passports’ queue. When the system came back online they reopened almost all the UK/EU gates without opening any for us – I actually raised it with a member of staff and they finally opened one,” He told the PA news agency.

Earlier, passenger Harmeet Singh, who arrived at Stansted on Tuesday evening, described the delays as “complete madness” with no one in charge.

He told The Independent: “We noticed huge lawless queues with no one in charge. My wife has a back muscle injury and I asked staff three times for a chair but they were unhelpful.

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“More and more passengers arrived, the walkways to the toilets were blocked, 10-15 disabled passengers were waiting and unhappy. It was complete madness.”

Another passenger said he landed at Manchester Airport and faced “huge queues” for passport control and was told the terminal’s e-gates were down.

Mariella, a British Airways passenger from Athens, touched down on BA637 at 8.30pm. She eventually emerged from International Arrivals at Heathrow Terminal 5 shortly before 11pm, and told The Independent: “They announced that everything was shut down, all the passports, whilst we were on the plane.

“The told us the transit [which shuttles passengers from remote satellites to the main building] was also not working.“Everything was just stuck. We were ‘snailing’ like a helix. They were just sending us all the way back, and all the way back, and it was just crazy for two-and-a-half hours.”

When Mariella, who has an EU passport, reached the officer, she was asked the purpose of her visit.

“That felt quite strange because it’s normally something that you are asked at the US border so that’s a first. Everybody queueing up was in good spirits, though, because we knew we were stuck. They were handing water to people.”

“People lost their connection flights and had to go to the hotels to sleep for the night.”

Simon Calder, The Independent’s travel correspondent, said: “The e-gates are a critical component of the UK Border Force operation at London Heathrow and all major airports – as well as the Eurostar terminal at Paris Gare du Nord.

“A large majority of inbound passengers are able to use them: adults from the UK, the European Union, North America, Australasia, Singapore, South Korea and Japan.

“Because most arriving travellers are processed automatically, it allows officers to focus on individuals from other parts of the world who need visas.

“All the staffing arrangements are made on the assumption that e-gates will be taking care of most passengers. As we saw almost a year ago – over the late May bank holiday weekend in 2023 – when they fail nationwide things unravel very quickly.”

Shenaz, a Londoner, arrived from Lisbon ahead of schedule at 9.10pm. At 11.15pm she spoke to The Independent.

“We were told we’re 25 minutes early, and then we were asked to sit in the plane because it was chaos,” she said.

“We were not allowed to leave the plane till approximately 9.30pm. And we’ve been in the queue since. We’ve just come out.

“At this time of the day, you want to get home and get into your bed, not queue up for a couple of hours.”

She said that fellow passengers were “very disciplined” in the queue. “I think everybody just took it in their own stride and just carried on.It is tiring, but I suppose the staff can cannot be blamed. One of those things - you just stay calm and carry on.

“British Airways staff were very good. The airport staff were good. So you can’t blame anyone. It’s a computer glitch. You blame the the higher authorities.”

The Home Office spokesperson confirmed in an email statement to Reuters early on Wednesday that “at no point was border security compromised and there is no indication of malicious cyber activity”.

A London Gatwick spokesperson said: “Some passengers may experience delays at immigration due to a nationwide issue with UK Border Force e-gates.

“Our staff are working with UK Border Force – who operate passport control including the e-gates – to provide assistance to passengers where necessary.”

A Heathrow spokesperson said: “Border Force is currently experiencing a nationwide issue which is impacting passengers being processed through the border.

“Our teams are supporting Border Force with their contingency plans to help resolve the problem as quickly as possible and are on hand to provide passenger welfare. We apologise for any impact this is having to passenger journeys.”

Manchester Airport’s statement read: “We are aware of an issue with UK Border Force’s systems across the country, affecting a significant number of airports.

“Our resilience team and customer services colleagues are supporting passengers while UK Border Force and the Home Office fix the issue.”

London Stansted and Edinburgh airports also said they had been affected by the issue, with UK Border Force working on fixing the glitch.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are aware of a technical issue affecting e-gates across the country. We are working closely with Border Force and affected airports to resolve the issue as soon as possible and apologise to all passengers for the inconvenience caused.”

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