Heathrow said it had deployed extra staff to manage the queues and was working with Border Force to help resolve the problem…reports Asian Lite News
Passengers flying into Britain have faced major delays after landing at airports due to a nationwide issue affecting the automated border control gates that scan passports upon arrival.
Images posted on social media on Saturday showed long queues with hundreds of people at London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports with frustrated passengers complaining of having to wait several hours in line.
“We are aware of a nationwide border system issue affecting arrivals into the UK,” said a spokesperson for the British government’s interior ministry, which has oversight of border control.
“We are working to resolve the issue as soon as possible and are liaising with port operators and airlines to minimise disruption for travellers,” they said.
Heathrow, Britain’s busiest airport, said it had deployed extra staff to manage the queues and was working with Border Force to help resolve the problem.
While many foreign visitors to the UK need to see a border control officer upon landing, others, including British, EU and US citizens, can use the automated gates known as e-gates to scan their passports and enter the country.
The disruption, which comes during a busy period for travel in Britain with a spring bank holiday on Monday and a half-term break for schools next week, means all passengers have to be processed at manual checkpoints.
“What’s going on @HeathrowAirport? Just landed to scenes of utter chaos. 2 hour queues just to get to the real queue,” one passenger posted on Twitter.
British airlines and airports have faced other disruptions over the past year including separate strikes involving airport staff and Border Force workers as well as cancelled flights caused by staff shortages last summer.
The U.K.’s Home Office announced it was working to resolve the issue. “We are working to resolve the issue as soon as possible and are liaising with port operators and airlines to minimise disruption for travellers,” it said.
Airports around the country use the same e-gate system which is operated by the Border Force. It’s unclear what caused the outages.
Separate technical issues have affected ferry travel between Dover and Calais, due to issues with French passport control. On Friday, British Airways also experienced technical disruptions, impacting 20,000 passengers and canceling 175 flights.
Lucy Morton, spokesperson for the Immigration Services Union told BBC that 60-80% of arrivals usually use e-gates, noting, “There’s no impact on national security, in fact, actually it will improve national security because every single arriving passenger will be seen by a human being, not a machine,” she said.
Morton added that the long lines will cause other problems though. “People become frustrated, they take it out on the staff,” she said.
All airports across the country using the technology were affected.
The e-gate system speeds up passport control by allowing some passengers to scan their own passports. It uses facial recognition to verify identity and captures the traveller’s image.
People flying into the UK had to have their passports checked manually, with larger airports with e-gates most affected.
Marc Baret had been booked on a flight from Chicago to Manchester via Heathrow, but said he had changed his plans after he was left waiting for more than two hours at the London airport.
He said: “It was absolute chaos at passport control. There were people getting really frustrated and a couple of individuals tried to jump queues, the police had to get engaged and one of the passengers fainted.”
Another passenger, arriving at Gatwick, said the situation was an “utter joke”.
Stephen, who declined to share his second name, waited for two-and-a-half hours at Bristol airport on Saturday afternoon without any access to water.
He said: “It was very hot, there was only one water bottle fill opportunity in the Arrivals hallways, and nothing in the immigration hall itself. I didn’t have a water bottle to top up so was very thirsty afterwards.”
Eurostar passengers were also affected, with travellers waiting in lengthy queues at Paris Gare de Nord train station because the e-gates were not working.
One man said he had to wait in the queue at Luton Airport for more than two hours earlier. Craig Pullen also told the BBC it was “very poor” that travellers had not been given regular updates on the problem, or told how long it would take to clear passport control.
Bobby Lane waited three hours at passport control at Luton Airport in the early hours of Saturday morning. He praised a Bedfordshire police officer who handed out bottles of water to struggling passengers, tweeting that he had “kept thousands in line with humour and kindness”.
A spokesperson for the airport said the mood among passengers had been “one of patience and understanding”.
Dave Tatlow was one of 300 passengers stuck in a queue at Heathrow Airport early in the morning. He said some passengers had overheated in the hot glass building.
“One poor elderly gentleman in his seventies travelling alone collapsed, and had to be helped by other passengers and staff. After that, bottles of water were distributed.”
This weekend was expected to be busy for travellers, with the bank holiday coinciding with the half-term break for many families.
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