Six hour Covid test delays at Heathrow Airport border

Heathrow arrivals are being forced to queue at immigration for up to SIX HOURS – with police called to handle disruptive passengers – MPs are told

  • Heathrow chief solutions officer Chris Garton said the situation was ‘untenable’
  • Passengers are regularly waiting between two and six hours to get tested 
  • Mr Garton said the Home Office has not increased the number of border staff
  • He said the airport’s eGates should be able to check passenger documents

Travellers arriving at Heathrow are being forced to queue for up to six hours due to coronavirus checks at the border, an airport executive said.

Chief solutions officer Chris Garton told MPs that ‘the situation is becoming untenable’ and the police have been forced to step in.

Giving evidence to the Commons Transport Select Committee, he explained that wait times in recent days have typically been ‘well in excess of two hours and up to six hours’.

Passengers have expressed their anger over the long delays in the arrivals hall of Heathrow 

Passengers approaching the UK border at Heathrow Airport are facing waits of up to six hours for Border Force officials to check their documentation about their Covid-19 status

He said: ‘We’re starting to see disruption in some of the arriving passengers.

‘If you’re made to queue for two or three hours, it’s not something you want to do, and we’re even having to involve the police service to help us.’

Mr Garton went on: ‘What’s happened is a whole host of new checks – 100 per cent checking of everybody – has been introduced, and that obviously has put a tremendous burden on the officers who work at the border.

‘The Home Office has not provided them with additional officers.’

He told the committee the amount of resources for processing passengers at the border ‘always was a problem’, but the coronavirus pandemic ‘has just made that so much worse than it was before’.

He continued: ‘We want to see that bottleneck removed as quickly as possible. It’s a problem today, it will become a much bigger problem after May 17 (when foreign leisure travel from England could resume).’

According to Heathrow Airport, many of the delays relate to the inspection of Passenger Locator Forms which are necessary  for all travellers arriving in the UK

Mr Garton said the ‘solution’ is to enable passengers to ensure their entry to the UK is ‘assured’ before they begin their journey.

Errors on passenger locator forms should be spotted and corrected in advance, and eGates should be able to check the documents automatically, he told MPs.

This would allow arriving travellers to ‘flow as you would normally through the eGates rather than having to line up and present your paperwork to a rather overstretched border official’, Mr Garton added.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman defended the queues, saying Border Force is ‘completing thorough checks of every arriving passenger’ which is ‘the approach the public would expect’.

Meanwhile, Edinburgh Airport has called on the Scottish government for support claiming that passengers would be forced to fly in and out of England if nothing is done to help the airline industry 

He added that the Government will ensure there are ‘sufficient measures there and resources available’ when international leisure travel resumes.

Downing Street insisted that resources would be put in place to ensure airports can cope with increased passenger numbers when international travel resumes.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘Whatever measures we set out from May 17 at the earliest, we’ll ensure that there are sufficient measures there and resources available.’

Meanwhile, in Scotland, Edinburgh Airport bosses warned of a reduction in the number of direct flights to Scotland without a covid recovery plan – leaving people reliant on airports in England.

Gordon Dewar, chief executive at Edinburgh Airport, called for immediate action from the Scottish Government to engage with airports and airlines for a recovery plan.

Mr Dewar said uncertainty around Scottish airports could lead to a reduction  in the number of direct flights and leave people reliant on airports in other parts of the UK.

He highlighted the industry supports thousands of jobs and generates billions of pounds for the Scottish economy every year.

In 2019, Edinburgh Airport generated £1.4 billion Gross Value Added (GVA) and 28,000 jobs in the Scottish economy.  

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