Airport bosses have urged the Border Force to “urgently speed up” automation of passenger checks in time for the holiday rush after new Government analysis showed four-hour queues will be commonplace this summer.
They warn of a “race against time” to fully digitise Covid related paperwork such as Passenger Locator Forms and PCR test booking details and upgrade eGate software systems so they can reopen.
Laborious manual checks by officials have increased the average time it takes to process a passenger up from around 25 seconds to five to 10 minutes. At the same time the number of Border Force officials sitting at their desks at any one time has been reduced by social distancing protocols.
The opening of a separate “red list” terminal at Heathrow this week is expected to reduce the average “transaction time” to between three and five minutes as passengers from green and amber list countries are less complex to process. However, this is still long enough to see huge queues build up at major airports.
A spokeswoman for Heathrow said:” We have made clear that excessive queuing at Heathrow this summer will not be tolerated and been reassured by Border Force that adequate resource is in place and indeed, is the most since that in place during the 2012 Olympic Games.”
“Before queues reach unacceptable levels, actions will be taken to hold passengers on planes or divert aircraft.
“Ministers have had months to put in place solutions to safely streamline the country’s border processes and the acceptance of this mediocre performance, despite the drop in passenger numbers, is further demonstration of complacency on the matter.
“Government must continue to automate checks for green list countries, and ensure adequate resource is in place at the border.”
A report on the Politico website this morning suggested that ministers are increasingly alarmed about the prospect of busy airports such as Heathrow descending into chaos as passenger numbers build up over the coming months.
But Karen Dee, chief executive of the Airports Operators Association, said: “It is Border Force who manage the border and the unacceptable queues we see today are a direct result of their current approach. The first step to preventing those queues is for Border Force to fully staff every available desk at peak time, which is made possible by the Covid-19 measures airports have put in place.
“The UK Government and Border Force should urgently speed up digitisation of Covid-19 document checks, including stepping up the upgrade work necessary to re-open eGates. This would eliminate the need to check lots of paper documents.”