A leading Labour MP has today blasted the Home Office over the ‘dangerous’ scenes at Heathrow Airport, where passengers were forced into massive queues with little social distancing amid claims of a lack of Border Force staff at passport control.
Nick Thomas Symonds, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary, described yesterday’s scenes at the London airport as ‘unacceptable’ and ‘dangerous in the midst of a global pandemic’.
It comes after chaotic scenes broke out at Heathrow’s border gates yesterday as hundreds of passengers were crammed into queues after just three officers were left to check passports.
The travellers, many with young families, even chanted ‘we want more staff’ as the lines in the ‘poorly ventilated’ room stretched for at least an hour.
Heathrow Airport branded the situation ‘totally unacceptable’, but left were powerless because the gates are controlled by UK Border Force.
Meanwhile a spokesperson for the Border Force today apologised for the delay.
The Home Office also promised to work with the airport to ‘ensure this does not happen again’ – but did not go into further details.
Today Mr Symonds told MailOnline: ‘These scenes at Heathrow Airport show that Border Force have been over-stretched, which is totally unacceptable.
‘The Home Office needs to get a grip of this issue – it is a huge inconvenience for travellers, unfair on Border Force staff and frankly dangerous in the midst of a global pandemic.’
Sources tonight blamed the long delays on travellers failing to comply with passenger locator forms, alongside the arrival of big family groups, who were therefore unable to use e-gates.
One passenger, Natalie Crane, 32, from Surrey, had arrived back from a holiday to Majorca with her husband, mother, and three young children when she was faced with a two-hour delay.
She said: ‘We queued with about 500 or 600 people; there was no social distancing, no ventilation – it would have been impossible to socially distance that many people in the room. It was just barbaric.
While the central London airport’s self service E-gates were operating, Natalie and dozens of other parents couldn’t use them because of age restrictions on children, and had to see a border officer.
‘After a while we found out there is only three people on the counters checking passports, so then everyone started chanting get more staff get more staff, this a disgrace. 10 minutes later all of a sudden you’ve got about 10 staff on.
‘When we complained to one of the staff on the counters because he wasn’t making people aware he was available, his response was ‘don’t go on holiday’.’
‘There was no compassion from the staff whatsoever.’
A spokesperson for Heathrow Airport told MailOnline that the queues were ‘totally unacceptable’, but that Border Force have forecasting systems to help avoid passenger queues on arrival.
The spokesperson also called for the Border Force to ‘sort out’ its resourcing in order to prevent issues in arising again in the future.
Emma Moore, Border Force Chief Operating Officer said: ‘Border Force apologise for the extensive queues and delays that occurred at Heathrow Airport. We understand the significant inconvenience and discomfort this would have caused those affected.
‘We are working with Heathrow Airport to ensure this does not happen again and social distancing measures are maintained while dealing with the increased number of passengers arriving at the airport.
‘We would urge travellers to fill in their passenger locator forms before travelling to the UK to avoid any delays.’
The experience added insult to injury MS Crane’s family of five, who also fell victim to the government’s quarantine rule change.
‘We went to Majorca last Saturday, so the evening we arrived we found out that Spain was being taken off the list and that the Balearics and canaries were not going to be exempt.
‘I can’t say it ruined the holiday because once we were there we knew we had to try and enjoy it. But it was disheartening, especially when you’ve got your children with you as well.
‘I think I would’ve been more understanding if I was in one of the areas of Spain with the highest cases, but I’m on the island of Majorca.’
All flights at Heathrow are currently operating from Terminals 2 and 5 following the temporary relocation of airlines from Terminals 3 and 4.
Heathrow was expecting 280 plane arrivals across the two terminals today.