Long Queues Feared at UK Airports When Travel Curbs Ease: Heathrow Boss

April 29, 2021 Updated: April 29, 2021

Extra COVID-19 paperwork and “bad organisation” could cause severe delays at the UK border when international travel restrictions ease next month, the boss of the London Heathrow Airport has said.

The airport revealed on Thursday that its losses from the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic has increased to £2.4 billion.

John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow’s chief executive, said poor staffing on the Border Force desks may cause long delays when international travel resumes, which is currently expected on May 17.

“We are trying to coordinate all the different companies across Heathrow to be able to cope with the growth—the airlines, the retailers, the ground handlers, the police. All those are in place,” he said.

“The one concern I have is Border Force, because they’ve been struggling even with the low volume we have today. We don’t see enough changing at the moment to be confident that that will be fixed within the next few weeks.”

Passenger numbers at the airport were down 91 percent in the first three months of the year. But despite the heavily reduced numbers, passengers still face hours-long queues after they disembark from their flights.

Passengers coming to the UK have to fill out paperwork before travelling to make sure they are COVID-19 compliant. These papers are checked before they board their flight, but also by border guards when they reach a UK airport.

However, at one point just two Border Force desks were open to process a few hundred passengers, which forced some to wait for as long as 6.5 hours.

“It’s not just a question of the paperwork, it’s just bad organisation that they don’t have enough people on the desk. That’s something that Border Force needs to fix ahead of May 17, and we’ve raised that with the Home Office, who manage Border Force,” Holland-Kaye said.

The Home Office said that some of the blame for longer queues lies with travellers. “Queues and wait times will be longer if passengers have not completed the necessary requirements to enter the UK,” it said in a statement.

It added that empty desks are sometimes a sign of border agents being forced to leave their desk because a passenger has not filled in forms correctly.

Under the UK government’s CCP virus restrictions, passengers landing in England must have proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test and a completed passenger locator form. Anyone arriving without these documents faces a £500 ($696) fine.

Airlines are also subject to financial penalties if they fail to ensure passengers have these documents before they arrive in England. The Civil Aviation Authority has issued 630 fines to airlines since Feb. 11, the Department for Transport (DfT) said on Tuesday.

PA contributed to this report.