LONDON: UK airports were chaotic on Saturday after glitches in the passport e-gate system held up people arriving in the country for hours.
It comes at a busy weekend with a bank holiday on Monday overlapping with a school holiday.
Travellers said on social media they waited hours as those eligible to use the e-gates had to have their passports checked by immigration officials instead.
A woman who landed at Heathrow wrote: “Returning from Dubai overnight to this mother of queues. My plane landed at 6am, there is still a sea of people in front of me, passport checks are being done manually.”
Heathrow, Britain’s busiest airport, said it had deployed extra staff to manage the queues and was working with Border Force to help resolve the problem.“What’s going on @HeathrowAirport? Just landed to scenes of utter chaos. 2 hour queues just to get to the real queue,” one passenger posted on Twitter.
London’s two main airports — Heathrow and Gatwick — were among those affected.
Heathrow said it was “working closely with Border Force”, which operates the e-gates, “to help resolve the problem as quickly as possible” and has deployed additional staff. The Home Office said the Border Force had “robust plans in place” to send its officers to help reduce wait times.
There are over 270 e-gates at 15 air and rail ports in the UK, according to the government, available to British nationals, EU citizens over the age of 12 as well as passport holders of several other countries, such as Australia and Canada.
On Saturday evening, the Home Office said the issue was resolved.
“Following a technical border system fault which affected e-gate arrivals into the UK, we can confirm all e-gates are now operating as normal,” it said.
The delays come after the UK’s British Airways airline cancelled dozens of flights through Heathrow airport over the course of Thursday and Friday following a knock-on technical issue.
Long queues also formed at Dover, a major port for ferries to France in the southeast of England, on Saturday due to IT issues at French passport control.
The Port of Dover said on Twitter that the technical issues were resolved and that the average waiting time was down to 30-45 minutes, compared to 90 minutes earlier in the day.
While many foreign visitors to the UK need to see a border control officer upon landing, others, including British, EU and US citizens, can use the automated gates known as e-gates to scan their passports and enter the country.
British airlines and airports have faced other disruption over the past year including from separate strikes involving airport staff and Border Force workers as well as cancelled flights caused by staff shortages last summer.
Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2023