The UK’s busiest airport has come under fire after passengers had to queue for hours to enter the country on Friday night. The situation at Heathrow was put down to a shortage of Border Force staff to process the evening’s arrivals. The warm, cramped, and unventilated conditions are even said to have caused some passengers to faint.
When landing at an airport on a Friday evening, we all want to be through immigration and on our way as quickly as possible to get on with whatever the weekend has in store. Unfortunately for passengers at London Heathrow this week, their weekend got off to a much slower and more frustrating start. This was due to huge queues at the UK border.
— Adina Chirodea (@AdinaChirodea) September 3, 2021
According to Sky News, the waiting times at the airport on Friday evening were in the region of two to three hours. For some passengers, this meant that they cleared immigration after trains from the airport had stopped running. This forced them to fork out for taxis.
With many passengers taking to social media to voice their frustration, it became clear that the situation was not only frustrating but also dangerous. The BBC reports that, the crowded situation in Terminal 5’s warm, unventilated corridors even caused passengers to faint. The queues also left a rather limited scope for social distancing.
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Not enough immigration staff
A shortage of immigration staff caused Friday’s queue chaos. Heathrow, which has lost £2.9 billion ($4.02 billion) since the start of the pandemic, criticized the Border Force for its insufficient staffing levels on Friday, calling the waiting times ‘unacceptable.’
The airport explained that another factor was the increased number of returning families. This is likely to have been because, for many, this week was the last of the UK school holidays. Of course, families with young children cannot use e-passport gates, which might have eased the queues. The BBC reports a Heathrow spokesperson as stating:
“Border Force were aware of the extra demand from families and we are very disappointed that they did not provide sufficient resource. We have additional Heathrow colleagues to support in managing queues and to hand 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.”
Not the first queue incident this summer
Interestingly, this is not the first time this summer that Heathrow has made the news for having abnormally long queues. Indeed, July 2021 saw LHR come under fire after a lack of security staff prompted waits of up to five hours for departing passengers.
The situation, which once again affected Terminal 5, arose after more than 100 security workers were told to self-isolate due to a COVID-19 contact by the NHS app. As passengers numbers increase amid a tentative recovery in the airline industry, passengers will hope that the airport is suitably equipped to process them punctually on their next visit.
What do you make of the situation at Heathrow? Were you caught up in one of the long queues? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.