Anger that airport passports don’t work

  • By Dulcie Lee and Rachel Russell
  • BBC news

Passengers flying to the UK have expressed anger at delays as passport e-gates across the country have been down all day.

The problem at airports including Heathrow, Manchester and Gatwick started on Friday night.

The Home Office said it was working with airlines and port operators to minimize the disruption from the “national border system issue”.

A union warned that queues would build quickly.

All airports across the country that use the gates are affected, meaning people flying in will have to have their passports checked manually.

Marc Baret had been booked on a flight from Chicago to Manchester via Heathrow, but told BBC News he changed his plans after waiting more than two hours at the London airport.

He said: “There was absolute chaos at passport control. There were people getting very frustrated and a couple of individuals tried to queue jump, the police had to get engaged and one of the passengers passed out,” he said.

One passenger who arrived at Gatwick said the situation was a “total joke”.

Another, Craig Pullen, said he had to wait in the queue at Luton Airport for more than two hours on Saturday, adding that it was “very bad” that travelers were not given regular updates about the problems with the e-gates or told where how long it would take to clear passport control.

It is unclear what the problem is with the border system, and a Home Office spokesman said it was “too sensitive to say”.

But while it technically affects anywhere people are checked into the UK, the impact is mainly felt at larger airports with e-gates.

This weekend was already expected to be a busy one for travelers, with bank holidays coinciding with the half-term holidays for many families.

Separate travelers leaving Britain from the port of Dover also faced problems after the French passport system failed earlier on Saturday.

That problem has now been resolved, but cars and buses wait for about an hour, with around 400 trucks queuing to take the crossing on a busy weekend.


Passengers queue for ferries at the port of Dover in Kent on Saturday

Airports around the UK issued statements warning passengers of delays but said they were working with the UK Border Force to minimize disruption.

A Gatwick Airport spokesperson said on Saturday morning that queues were “manageable” at that stage – although they were expecting 800 inbound flights during the day. It confirmed the problem first started between 19:00 and 20:00 BST on Friday.

The E-gate system increases passport control by allowing some passengers to scan their own passports. It uses facial recognition to verify identity and captures the traveler’s image.

Lucy Morton, of the Immigration Services Union, told the BBC that between 60-80% of incoming passengers typically use e-gates, depending on the airport and with the inaccessible queues likely to build “very quickly”.

“There is no impact on national security,” she said, explaining that all arrivals will still be fully screened through manned officer desks.

E-gates can be used by UK citizens aged 12 and over and those from the EU, as well as people from countries including Australia, Canada, the US, Japan and New Zealand.

But all entry points retain manned security desks for other passengers and those unable to use e-gates.

A Home Office spokesperson said they were aware of a “national border system issue affecting arrivals into the UK”.

“We are working to resolve the issue as soon as possible and are liaising with port operators and airlines to minimize disruption to travellers,” they said.

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