Families with young children will wait up to four hours to clear border checks at Heathrow, according to a Department for Transport source, with the airport warning some flights could even be diverted.
Government affairs website Politico said it had spoken to a DfT official concerned about the “unsustainable” amount of time health checks will take at the airport.
“The Department for Transport has produced analysis predicting that families with young children will have to wait for up to four hours when they land back at Heathrow,” Politico warned, adding:
“This is the first time the government has confirmed it is now expecting serious holiday-ruining waiting times.”
Heathrow did not dispute the claim when contacted by TTG. “Border Force’s ability to cope with passengers arriving back is something we have been flagging for a long time,” said a spokesperson.
A statement from the airport said: “We have made clear that excessive queuing at Heathrow this summer will not be tolerated and been reassured by Border Force that adequate resource is in place and indeed, is the most since that in place during the 2012 Olympic Games.
“Before queues reach unacceptable levels, actions will be taken to hold passengers on planes or divert aircraft.
“Ministers have had months to put in place solutions to safely streamline the country’s border processes and the acceptance of this mediocre performance, despite the drop in passenger numbers, is further demonstration of complacency on the matter.
“Government must continue to automate checks for green list countries, and ensure adequate resource is in place at the border.”
The DfT referred TTG to the Home Office, which oversees Border Force. A spokesperson did not comment on the DfT source’s claim, but said Border Force would maintain “100% health checks” when travel reopened.
“We are doing all we can to reduce waiting times, including updating our e-gates to meet the new biosecurity check requirements, simplifying the Passenger Locator Form and deploying additional Border Force officers,” the spokesperson said. She admitted upgrading eGates to meet new requirements would take until the autumn.
“Airport immigration halls and desks are designed for e-gates and border checks that ordinarily would take anywhere between 45 seconds and up to three minutes. Border Force has the right level of staffing to check that passengers are compliant with our border health measures using the number of desks available at Heathrow.”
The spokesperson said it was “standard procedure” for Border Force to model different scenarios and added:
“Arrangements for queues are the responsibility of the relevant airport, which we expect to be done in a Covid-secure way.”