Holidaymakers stuck in hour-long queues at Bristol Airport passport control


Passengers complained of ‘chaos’ at Bristol Airport’s passport control last night after a nationwide eGate outage caused chaos at Heathrow, Luton and Stansted.

Photos and video on social media show crowds of travellers from ‘multiple flights’ forming ‘hour-long’ queues at Bristol amid claims there were just three staff checking passports.  

‘Chaos at @BristolAirport passport control! Waiting an hour here. If you’re going to have multiple flights arriving at once why only 3 personnel checking passports? Sort yourself out,’ one passenger wrote. Another said: ‘@BristolAirport hour wait to get half way to passport control, screaming kids everywhere in a poorly ventilated area. Think this is acceptable?’

A Bristol Airport spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘On behalf of UK Border Force, we apologise for the delay in passengers passing through immigration yesterday evening. This was the result of a UK Border Force systems failure during a busy arrivals period. 

‘We appreciate the frustration that customers experienced and UK Border Force will complete a full investigation into the cause.’

Yesterday the Home Office admitted there was an eGate outage at a ‘number of ports’, with officials at Luton apparently telling exasperated passengers that there was a ‘national outage’. One traveller revealed he’d waited two hours after arriving from Amsterdam.

The eGates are managed by the £372million central UK-wide security database which was rushed into use in June when it was already more than three years overdue. The gates can be used by adults with a biometric or ‘chipped’ passport.

It marked the third time in three months that there has been a failure of the gates at airports in the UK. There are more than 270 eGates across 15 air and rail ports in Britain and they have been in place for British and EU nationals to use since 2008. 

Passengers complained of ‘chaos’ at Bristol Airport’s passport control last night after a nationwide eGate outage

Photos and video on social media show crowds of travellers from 'multiple flights' forming 'hour-long' queues at Bristol amid claims there were just three staff checking passports

Photos and video on social media show crowds of travellers from ‘multiple flights’ forming ‘hour-long’ queues at Bristol amid claims there were just three staff checking passports

'Chaos at @BristolAirport passport control! Waiting an hour here. If you're going to have multiple flights arriving at once why only 3 personnel checking passports? Sort yourself out,' one passenger wrote

‘Chaos at @BristolAirport passport control! Waiting an hour here. If you’re going to have multiple flights arriving at once why only 3 personnel checking passports? Sort yourself out,’ one passenger wrote

A Twitter user queueing at London Heathrow Airport said it was a 'complete shower' and 'b****y massive queue'

A Twitter user queueing at London Heathrow Airport said it was a ‘complete shower’ and ‘b****y massive queue’

How do eGates work and how are they managed? 

Closed eGates at Heathrow on October 6 as issues continue

Closed eGates at Heathrow on October 6 as issues continue

Yesterday marked the third time in three months that there has been a failure of eGates at UK airports.

The Home Office has more than 270 eGates spread across 15 air and rail ports in Britain and they have been in place for UK and EU nationals to use since 2008.

In May 2019, the system was then expanded for use by nationals from Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and the US. The gates can be used by adults with a biometric or ‘chipped’ passport.

They are managed by the Home Office’s £372million central UK-wide security database – known as Border Crossing – which was rushed into use at the end of June when it was already more than three years overdue. 

eGates use facial recognition technology to compare a passenger’s face with a digital image in their passport, and are monitored by Border Force. 

Anyone rejected has their identity and passport checked manually.

Border Crossing had to be rushed in because the database it replaced, known as the Warnings Index, could not handle EU travellers who are now checked in the same way as other international passengers.

The eGates also failed at airports and ports UK-wide on September 24 and October 6 this year, and were closed for weeks when foreign leisure travel resumed on May 17 after they could not recognise passenger locator forms.

In May 2019, the system was then expanded for use by nationals from Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and the US. 

The gates also failed at airports and ports on September 24 and October 6 this year, and were closed for weeks when foreign leisure travel resumed on May 17 after they could not recognise passenger locator forms. 

Travellers arriving back in the UK have also been hit by staffing issues with more than a quarter of Border Force workers at Heathrow estimated to have been off work in August after being in close contact with someone who tested positive for Covid.

EGates use facial recognition technology to compare a passenger’s face with a digital image, and are monitored by Border Force officers. Anyone rejected has their identity and passport checked manually.

Border Crossing had to be rushed in because the database it replaced, known as the Warnings Index, could not handle EU travellers who must now be checked in the same way as other international passengers.  

Among those stuck in the Heathrow chaos was Bloomberg reporter Sid Philip, who tweeted a photograph of a huge queue and wrote shortly before 9am: ‘Another day, another outage at Heathrow.

‘Two hours from plane to outside the terminal and I was lucky! The bizarre bit was for about ten minutes none of the counters were manned as the agents laughed, stood up and left!’

British bass baritone singer Edward Grint, who was stuck in a queue at Stansted, added: ‘Stansted or Standstill? Landed nearly an hour ago. Looks like it’s going to be well over two hours waiting for someone to check my forms.’

And another Twitter user queueing at Heathrow said: ‘A complete shower at #heathrow #heathrowairport #heathrowarrivals as the eGates have gone down. B****y massive queue, and no real additional staff to be seen.’

Paul Knights, 56, who lives on the Isle of Wight and works in marketing and photography, said he was caught up in the queues at Luton after landing on an easyJet flight from Amsterdam Schipol at 9.40am. 

He told MailOnline: ‘Someone has come up and down the queue, they’ve said it’s a national outage at border control. The official came up once or twice in this massive queue. I’d say there’s probably another hour to go.

‘People are patient here, there’s no ranting and raving. It’s generally quite calm. Most people have still got their masks on but some have dropped them down, getting a bit hot and sweaty. Everybody’s been pretty patient.’

One Heathrow employee told The Times yesterday: ‘I came onto shift and they were working. Then they just failed and all we’ve been told is there is a technical issue. It’s becoming a real issue.’

A passenger who had arrived on a ‘red eye’ overnight flight from New York said: ‘What is it about the UK? Nothing ever works. It took me three minutes to get into the US and they are notoriously slow. I’ve been here an hour.’ 

And a border officer processing arrivals manually told the newspaper: ‘It’s happened a few times this year. It’s very irritating as the hall would be half empty if they were working. It’s the joys of technology.’

A Home Office spokesman told MailOnline: ‘We are aware of a technical issue affecting eGates at a number of ports. We are working to resolve the issue as soon as possible and apologise to all passengers for the inconvenience caused.’ 

Passengers were stuck in huge queues at Stansted Airport yesterday (pictured) at immigration control due to the outage of electronic gates

Passengers were stuck in huge queues at Stansted Airport yesterday (pictured) at immigration control due to the outage of electronic gates

Air passengers were forced to queue for up to two hours at London Luton Airport after an issue with the eGates

Air passengers were forced to queue for up to two hours at London Luton Airport after an issue with the eGates

Paul Knights took this photograph of the huge queues faced by passengers after they arrived at Luton Airport

Paul Knights took this photograph of the huge queues faced by passengers after they arrived at Luton Airport

Bass baritone singer Edward Grint, stuck in a queue at Stansted, tweeted this picture and said: 'Stansted or Standstill?'

Bass baritone singer Edward Grint, stuck in a queue at Stansted, tweeted this picture and said: ‘Stansted or Standstill?’

A source within the Government department insisted to MailOnline that the eGates were constantly monitored by officials in an effort to minimise disruption, and that border security had not been affected by the issue.

Border officials told The Times that they were unsure if the problems were linked to the Home Office’s £372million security database which has previously crashed and led to huge queues.

The system was rushed into use at the end of June when it was already nearly four years overdue, just months after MPs criticised the way the project had been handled and warned that the Home Office had ‘no proof’ it could cope with higher numbers of passengers.

The Border Crossing system checks travellers’ names against terrorism records, the Police National Computer and immigration records.

MPs on the Commons public accounts committee, which published a report on the system in March, said the Home Office had ‘no proof that it can cope with passenger volumes that existed prior to Covid-19’. 

OCTOBER 6: Passengers queue for the arrivals hall at London Heathrow Airport's Terminal 5 due to a problem with the eGates

OCTOBER 6: Passengers queue for the arrivals hall at London Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5 due to a problem with the eGates

SEPTEMBER 24: Huge queues at Heathrow are caused by an IT failure leaving hundreds stuck in the underpass at Terminal 2

SEPTEMBER 24: Huge queues at Heathrow are caused by an IT failure leaving hundreds stuck in the underpass at Terminal 2

AUGUST 29: Hundreds of holidaymakers are stuck in huge queues at Heathrow as they waited pass through Border Control

AUGUST 29: Hundreds of holidaymakers are stuck in huge queues at Heathrow as they waited pass through Border Control

The MPs also criticised the ‘staggering’ cost of government IT schemes and blamed a ‘lack of effective leadership, management and oversight’.

Their report said: ‘Due to low passenger numbers resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, Border Crossing has not been operationally tested at the scale it is expected to require based on passenger number expectations outside of the unique circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic.’

Border Crossing had to be brought in quickly in June because the database it replaced, known as the Warnings Index, could not handle passengers arriving from the EU who must now be checked in the same way as other international travellers.

Development of the IT system, which is part of a larger scheme, began in 2014 and was supposed to be in place by 2017.

A previous IT project launched in 2003, eBorders, was ditched after eight years and cost at least £340million. A later contractual row cost the taxpayer another £185million.

In August it was estimated that more than a quarter of UK Border Force staff at Heathrow were away from work after being in close contact with someone who tested positive for Covid. It meant there were fewer staff available to carry out manual checks if the IT system crashes.

Seven months of queuing chaos at Heathrow

May 17 – Passengers flying into the UK faced ‘bedlam’ at the border with some facing a three hour wait at the Heathrow passport gates. Travellers told MailOnline how they were ‘terrified of catching Covid’ while being crammed into the airport’s border hall.

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. A passenger said: ‘Total chaos at security at Heathrow airport T5 this morning. Never seen anything like it.’

July 20 – 90-minute queues were seen at arrivals after the government failed to update Passenger Locator Forms ahead of its ‘Freedom Day’ rule changes – resulting in double-jabbed Britons being rejected at eGates.

August 2 – Queues of passengers stretched the entire length of Terminal 5. Officials again blamed staff having to self-isolate. A spokesman quoted figures showing that one in four Border Force guards were reported to be off sick with Covid or self-isolating.

August 29 – Three-hour waits were reported at passport control. A day later the Home Office risked fury as it said passengers ‘need to accept’ the risk of delays at peak times.

September 24 – ‘Thousands’ forced to wait in three hour queues for UK Border Control as passengers lament Heathrow’s ‘lack of respect’ towards travellers.

October 6 – Hundreds of irate travellers at Heathrow re forced to wait up to four hours at arrivals in Terminals 3 and 5 or are being held on planes as eGates crash for the second time in less than two weeks.

November 10 – Air passengers faced queues of up to two hours after a nationwide eGate outage causes chaos at Heathrow as well as at Luton and Stansted. 



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