Confused holidaymakers, desperate to get home ahead of the deadline of 4am Tuesday, were met by two-hour-long queues at Faro Airport.
EasyJet was forced to apologise for “busier than usual conditions” after passengers said staff were struggling to cope with the influx and “Thorpe Park-like” queues snaking out of the door.
In a tweet the airline told one disgruntled passenger the UK Government’s “sudden” decision to change Portugal from the green to amber list was behind the rush.
They added: “The staff might have been overwhelmed with the influx of people either changing their bookings for today, this is besides the passengers with existing bookings scheduled to depart today as well.”
Watch: Passengers scramble to return to the UK after Portugal is removed from the green list
Leon Buck, 48, said his family were heading back to London from Faro airport. He told the Standard: “There was definitely not enough check-in staff to cope. Most of the time only three people were manning the normal EasyJet check-in. There was handful of people getting stressed but mainly people getting on with it.
“It took two hours to check-in but it could’ve all been avoided if extra staff were available. The poor guy who checked us in had been working since 7am and was still there 12 hours later.”
One flyer complained: “Absolute carnage at Faro airport today. It took over two hours to check in with some very stressed and upset families.”
Pointing the finger at Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Health Secretary Matt Hancock, the flyer added: “You deliberately created this situation and why didn’t you let half term families from safe Algarve home first?”
Hayley Johansen, 50, flew to Portugal with her family on the day the amber list decision was announced and had to scramble to find emergency Covid tests despite already spending £500.
“There were a lot of people struggling to get tests. I spent about four hours on the phone on Thursday and Friday trying to find somewhere to get testing,” she told The Times.
Evening Standard journalist Ellie Davis faced a race to get private Covid tests so she could get home on a flight this evening before the change in quarantine rules.
She is booked on a flight to London tonight but has already spent hundreds of pounds on virus tests to make sure she is able to catch it.
She said: "We had to spend the first day of our trip locating a place to get an antigen test so that we can return home and we have to do another expensive PCR test two days after we get back. Bizarrely it can’t be an NHS or antigen test, which are much cheaper and are safe enough to use in schools. I’m also double vaccinated - shouldn’t that be enough?"
Louis Cohen, 21, from Brighton said he witnessed hundreds of people waiting in line at the easyJet’s baggage drop off point at the airport.
“It’s like queuing for Thorpe Park over the summer holiday or half-term and you are waiting two hours to get on a ride”, he told The Mirror.
Watch: Should I book a holiday in 2021?
An EasyJet spokeswoman apologised to passengers for any inconvenience, adding: “Our priority is to help all customers who need to return ahead of the Tuesday deadline.
“Our team in the airport are working hard to help our customers through the airport as quickly as possible and we are currently holding flights where required to provide customers with time to get to the gate.
“We continue to inform all passengers travelling from Faro today to allow extra time to travel through the airport due to the demand and extra UK government documentation checks in place.”
It came after the boss of Airlines UK said there was “no consistency” and a lack of transparency over changes to travel rules.
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of the industry body which represents UK carriers, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme ministers had reneged on promises over a “green watchlist” that would have given travellers increased warning about a country possibly coming off the safe list.
“It would be a list of countries that were on the cusp or there was a risk that they would be moving from green to amber so passengers were aware of that, it was fully transparent and they would be taking that risk when they booked,” he said.
“It was entirely to stop what happened last summer when countries were moving up and down off the corridor list on a weekly basis and we saw people stranded overseas and then desperate to come home again because they couldn’t afford to quarantine.
“It has caused complete pandemonium because we don’t have that watchlist that we were promised by the Government and I think with the taskforce, the transparency is not there, we don’t know what has to happen for countries to move from green to amber, or amber to green for that matter.”
Have you been caught up in the Portugal travel chaos? Let us know in the comment section below