Heathrow Airport travellers wait 'up to six hours' in immigration queues

15 April 2021, 08:04 | Updated: 15 April 2021, 12:01

Heathrow boss Chris Garton says queues at the airport are "untenable"
Heathrow boss Chris Garton says queues at the airport are "untenable". Picture: PA Images
Ewan Quayle

By Ewan Quayle

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

Chief solutions officer at the airport Chris Garton, told MPs that "the situation is becoming untenable" as people are made to submit to additional Covid-19 checks and screening when arriving.

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".

READ MORE: Huge crowds at Heathrow Airport 'incredibly worrying', shadow health secretary says

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."

Heathrow has been troubled with long queues for years
Heathrow has been troubled with long queues for years. Picture: PA Images

Mr Garton went on: "What's happened is a whole host of new checks - 100% 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 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)."

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

Heathrow Airport has implemented strict Covid checks in its terminals
Heathrow Airport has implemented strict Covid checks in its terminals. Picture: PA Images

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".

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

A Home Office spokesperson said: "We are in a global health pandemic – people should not be travelling unless absolutely necessary.

"Border Force has ensured it has the right level of resources to check that passengers are compliant with our border health measures, but queues and wait times will currently be longer as we undertake these vital checks to keep us all safe.

"Delay also occur due to the fact that some passengers have not completed the necessary requirements to enter the UK, such as purchasing Covid testing packages or booking their hotel quarantine in advance."