Heathrow says it now has “adequate resource and processes” to ensure passenger safety following fears it could not operate new quarantine policies safely.
Queues of up to five hours built up at immigration over the weekend due to the extra time needed to process passengers under existing Covid restrictions. It led to fears staff would be unable to cope and passengers endangered when hotel quarantine requirements were introduced on Monday 15 February.
However, a Heathrow spokesperson said: “Over the weekend, our teams worked closely with government to support the successful implementation of the managed quarantine policy.
“Border Force today has reassured us that they have adequate resource and effective processes at the border to avoid compromising the safety of passengers and those working at the airport, which could necessitate the suspension of some arriving flights.
“In recent days, passengers have spent as long as five hours queueing at the border. This is totally unacceptable, and we will continue closely monitoring this situation to better understand the impact this policy has on the passenger journey.”
The airport said border queues across both terminals on Monday were “less than an hour long” and would be closely monitored.
Heathrow had warned at the weekend that “some significant gaps remain” and called on the government to “ensure there is adequate resource and appropriate protocols in place for each step of the full end-to-end process from aircraft to hotel to avoid compromising the safety of passengers and those working at the airport”.
From Monday, travellers from 33 red list countries must isolate in a designated airport hotel room for 10 days at a cost of £1,750.
The Times has reported Heathrow will operate separate immigration queues for red list passengers, who will be led to waiting buses to take them to their hotels. However, there will be no separation on flights or during the walk through the terminal to get to immigration.
The GMB union said security companies had been given “less than 36 hours’ notice” to put staff in place in hotels. It has asked for talks with contractor G4S about safety procedures.
"This isn’t just about the safety of workers, it’s about preventing new variants from spreading at a time when we are beginning to turn the tide on the virus,” said GMB national officer Nadine Houghton.