UK Border Delays Could Prompt Heathrow Flight Diversions

Heathrow Airport has suggested that flights may be diverted to other London Airports if queues at the UK border become too great. According to the Director-General of the UK Border Force, it currently takes five to ten minutes to process each passenger arriving in the UK.

Heathrow Airport, UK Border, Flights Diverted
Heathrow flights could be diverted to other London Airports to cope with delays at the UK Border. Photo: LHR Airports Ltd

Many countries have implemented additional requirements for passengers to gain entry. This could be presenting passenger locator forms, travel declarations, or negative COVID-19 test certificates. Accompanying this is an increase in the administrative work required to process each passenger, as has been seen at many borders across the globe.

Could Heathrow divert flights?

According to a report by BBC News yesterday, it seems as though Heathrow is considering every option ahead of a potential immigration bottleneck. A Heathrow Airport spokesperson told the publication,

“There are protocols in place to hold passengers on planes or divert them to other airports, to prevent excessive, unnecessary and completely avoidable queues in immigration halls.”

Heathrow Airport, UK Border, Flights Diverted
Heathrow could also hold passengers on planes to stop queues building in the terminal. Photo: Heathrow Airport

Heathrow Airport is calling on the UK Border Force to deploy more immigration officers to process incoming travelers. We’ve already seen reports of extended waiting times at the border. This will almost certainly become worse from Monday when the government’s ban on non-essential international travel will expire.

According to an analysis of OAG data by Simple Flying, Heathrow expects a peak of 15 arrivals an hour on Monday, the first day that travel restrictions end.

Heathrow Airport, UK Border, Flights Diverted
On Monday, up to 15 arrivals are expected each hour at Heathrow. Photo: OAG

What is currently checked at the UK border?

Many passengers traveling through the UK border are used to just showing a passport and perhaps a visa. Most UK and European Economic Area citizens have been used to scanning their passports in an automated e-gate, not even speaking to a border official.

To halt the spread of COVID-19, passengers now have to carry a wealth of extra paperwork checked at the border. This includes,

  • A passenger locator form
  • A negative COVID-19 test
  • Confirmation of a testing package (green & amber arrivals)
  • Proof of a managed hotel quarantine booking (red arrivals)
United Kingdom, Stansted, Quarantine
Border Force is checking a range of documents from each passenger. Image: Simple Flying

Speaking at the Transport Secretary’s press conference on the topic of international travel last Friday, the Director-General of the UK Border Force, Paul Lincoln, commented,

“We are not back to normality yet… There will continue to be additional health checks for every person crossing our border. Inevitable that will mean that it will take longer for most people to enter the UK.”


According to Lincoln, it currently takes five to ten minutes to process each passenger, up from 25 seconds pre-COVID. He did reveal that the agency is looking to digitize the process of checking passenger locator forms and testing packages to be accepted through the border’s e-Gates. This isn’t expected to be rolled out until the summer.

Would you rather be held on a plane or diverted in the case of long queues at the border? Let us know what you think and why in the comments below!