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Furious travel firms say nightmare Heathrow queues are ‘government strategy’

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Outraged travel agents today suggested that ministers had little interest in clearing nightmarish queues at Heathrow because they wanted to ‘deter people from flying abroad’ – while others complained that the chaotic scenes damaged Britain’s image.

Elderly people and exhausted families with young children sat on the ground in the lines at Terminals 2 and 5 on Sunday, with travelers waiting up to five hours.

Similar scenes have been repeated numerous times this summer, with the government blaming the issue on a lack of Border Force personnel.

Suggesting broader considerations were at play, Noel Josephides, director of AITO, the Specialist Travel Association, told MailOnline: “Very sadly, we believe that allowing such unnecessarily bad experiences is part of our strategy. the government to prevent people from traveling abroad. .’

Parents complained on Sunday that they were being herded in front of the limited number of Border Force staff counters because facial recognition on e-gates doesn’t work with babies and toddlers

Clive Wratten, CEO of the Business Travel Association (BTA), described the scenes as “deeply concerning.”

He said: ‘As the world continues to open up safely, it is essential that there is adequate staff and support at all points of a journey.

“The travel experience must be as frictionless and consistent as possible to give all travelers the confidence that they will return in large numbers.”

Jacqueline Dobson, President of Barrhead Travel, which describes itself as the UK’s leading independent British travel agents, said: ‘From a visitor’s perspective arriving at Heathrow is the first impression many get of the UK – and first impressions matter. ‘

Heathrow’s Summer of Chaos in Line: So When WILL the Government Get a Grip?

May 17 – Passengers flying to the UK were confronted with ‘bedlam’ at the border and some had to wait three hours at Heathrow passport gates. Travelers told MailOnline how they were “terrified of catching Covid” as they were crammed into the airport border concourse this morning.

July 12 – Passengers said they had ‘never seen anything like’ the queues at Heathrow Terminal 5 as officials blamed the scenes on staff having to self-isolate. One passenger said: ‘Total chaos at Heathrow Airport T5 security this morning. Never seen anything like it.’

July 20 – There were 90-minute queues on arrivals after the government failed to update passenger locator forms prior to the change to the ‘Freedom Day’ rule, which resulted in Brits being turned away at e-gates with double punches.

August 2 – Passenger queues stretched the entire length of Terminal 5. Officials again blamed staff for self-isolating. A spokesman quoted figures showing that one in four Border Guard guards were reportedly ill from Covid or placed themselves in isolation.

August 29 – At passport control, waiting times of three hours were reported. A day later, the Interior Ministry risked anger as it said passengers “must accept” the risk of delays during peak hours.

The Interior Ministry has risked anger after it said travelers “must accept” that they could face long delays at peak times due to the need to process people’s Covid documents.

But today, a high-ranking Tory MP insisted the issues should have been addressed “a long time ago.”

“This has been a constant problem during the pandemic and I understand that the Home Office may have had problems recruiting for the Border Force, but that is not a new problem,” the MP told MailOnline.

“They should have addressed this a long time ago. It adds to travel uncertainty and it’s not good for the travel industry or the traveling public. The Border Force needs to be better organised.’

Mark Fuller, CEO of Sanctum Hotel Group, which runs a range of luxury hotels, including Karma Sanctum Soho, said the queues would deter future visitors to the UK.

“It is worrying enough for visitors to enter the UK with the high levels of Covid but if it will take them four hours to get through the arrivals it won’t help,” he said.

‘Certainly if it stays that way, people will think, why bother? That will lead to more debt, more empty hotels and restaurants. We need the tourism industry and the government to help us.’

Karen Dee, CEO of the Airport Operators Association, argued that only more Border Force personnel would solve the problem.

“Significant steps have been taken to digitize Covid-19 controls, and when combined with the controls that airlines are putting in place, these are ensuring that public health is protected and border processing becomes faster and easier,” she said.

“However, a smooth border experience still requires Border Force to fully staff the border halls at peak times, such as a holiday weekend.

“With many other pressures on the UK border, Border Force needs to ensure they have the full workforce needed to perform all their duties, both at airports and elsewhere.”

Yesterday, hundreds of holidaymakers were seen close together as they waited through border controls

Yesterday, hundreds of holidaymakers were seen close together as they waited through border controls

AITO director Noel Josephides said Sunday’s problems had been exacerbated by a combination of peak tourist returns and the need to manage evacuees from Afghanistan, both issues he said “could have been mitigated.”

He also pointed to the issue of facial recognition systems on e-gates not working on children under 12.

“The lack of an opportunity for families to use E-gates meant that people with children had to queue twice and be checked by hand,” he said.

“This is due to a lack of automation of the significant amount of paperwork currently associated with traveling abroad, and this could and should have been resolved long ago.”

Criticizing the ministers, he added: ‘They have failed to provide any sector-specific support to tour operators and travel agents such as AITO members, despite the billions of pounds we have previously deposited annually into the government coffers.

“However, they have supported aviation to the tune of £7 billion during the pandemic, ignoring the plight of operators and agents.”

Steve Witt, co-founder of Not Just Travel said: ‘We always want to make sure our customers have a great experience and we would hate to think that their lasting memory of their vacation had to queue for 4 hours when they came home. . Of course we fully appreciate the logistical challenges Heathrow is facing, but the customer experience is our top priority.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Grant Shapps, the Secretary of State for Transport

Under fire: Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps

On Sunday, parents complained about being held back at the limited number of Border Force staff counters because facial recognition technology on e-gates doesn’t work with infants and toddlers.

Disgruntled passengers took to social media to share their frustration, with one claiming that “only 5-6 of the 32 counters were operational.”

Entrepreneur James Reed tweeted: ‘Perverse arrangements on arrival at Heathrow T5 this weekend; adults are digitally checked, but families with small children (under 12) have to queue for hours. Huge Q last night at 11pm with lots of very tired little kids. There must be a better way.’

And Camilla Kerr added: ‘Yesterday I arrived at London Heathrow with chaotic queues. Families with children can’t go through the e-passport checks, so we had to queue for the border guards. The problem is that only two people were employed to handle hundreds of families. Why not put in extra guards?’

Entrepreneur James Reed and traveler Camilla Ker were among those trapped in the nightmare queues this weekend

Entrepreneur James Reed and traveler Camilla Ker were among those trapped in the nightmare queues this weekend

But the interior ministry said “the top priority is to protect the health and safety of the public.”

A spokesperson said: “Our top priority is to protect the safety and health of the public and we will never compromise on safety and ensure passengers comply with current health measures, meaning passengers will have an extension of the time required. will have to accept. to cross the border.

“The rollout of upgrades to our eGates to automate health requirements checks is underway, and many eGates are already in use and more will be added in the coming months to increase automated passenger checks at airports.

‘However, for safety reasons, families with children under the age of 12 are not allowed to use the eGates. Where there are many families with young children, such as during the summer holidays, Border Force can instead dynamically deploy resources at frontline desks and we continue to deploy our employees flexibly to make the process as smooth as possible.’

Last month, Border Force officers were reportedly told to no longer carry out Covid checks on all arrivals to reduce queues at the airport.

Officials were told they will no longer have to “routinely” screen passengers arriving from green-listed and orange-listed countries, according to a leaked report from the Guardian.

Arrivals are currently required to take a negative Covid test taken before departure and to complete a Passenger Locator Form within 48 hours of departure to the UK.

What should arrivals from countries with a green and orange list do before traveling?

Green list

– You must take a Covid test before traveling. This can be a PCR, lamp or antigen, but must meet specific requirements – of ≥97% specificity, ≥80% sensitivity at viral loads greater than 100,000 copies/ml.

– You must book and pay for a Covid ‘Day 2’ test two days after your arrival in the UK.

– You must complete a Passenger Locator Form within 48 hours of travel

Amber list

All of the above. PLUS:

– If you are NOT double vaccinated, you must quarantine at home for at least 10 days. You can be released earlier if you participate in the Test and Release Scheme.

– If you have been double vaccinated, you must certify that you have been fully vaccinated in the UK on your passenger locator form or that you are under 18 years of age and resident in the UK. You must show proof of your vaccination status to your carrier (ferry, airline or train) during your trip.

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