Holidaymakers face airport delays because it is taking 14 or 15 times longer to check their travel documents even as the ban on foreign travel is lifted, Britain’s Border Force chief has warned.
Paul Lincoln, the Border Force director general, said holidaymakers could not expect travel to return to normal as the Government unveiled its “green” list of countries where holidaymakers are exempted from quarantine on their return.
He warned the Government’s “cautious” approach to the reopening of borders would mean returning holidaymakers would face longer delays than normal. Portugal, Israel, Iceland and Gibraltar are among just 12 “green” countries and territories.
Airport chiefs have already complained of queues of up to eight hours even though the number of passengers travelling in the pandemic is a tiny fraction of the numbers before the virus.
But Mr Lincoln told a Downing Street press conference Border Force officers would continue to check manually every passenger’s passport, test certificate and locator form on their return to the UK even when the ban ends on May 17.
He revealed that it was taking on average "five to 10 minutes" to check each passenger arriving into the UK. This meant that “even for the most compliant passenger, it might take 14 or 15 times longer to process than before, compared to around 25 seconds,” he said.
"Where people do not have the correct paperwork it can and has taken considerably longer, including when we need to serve fixed penalty notices for non-compliance." And there had been “a lot of non-compliant passengers,” he added.
"For the time being, passengers will need to accept an increase in the time taken at each stage of their journey.
"These measures have been put in place to protect the hard-fought gains and sacrifices that have been made by individuals and society in the UK, minimising the risk of importing variants while protecting the success of our vaccine rollout."
The Home Office is promising to provide more Border Force staff and is racing to integrate the electronic passenger locator forms into its e-gates so that holidaymakers can avoid manual checks and have the documents scanned in seconds.
However, the technology, currently being piloted at Heathrow, is not expected to be rolled out to all airports until the autumn – a deadline that the Airport Operators’ Association say is “preposterous”.
Announcing the “green” list countries, Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, said it was “necessarily cautious” but said more could be added in three weekly reviews of the list.
Others in the first tranche include Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei, Faroe Islands, Falkland Islands, South Georgia, South Sandwich Islands, St Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan de Cunha.
Other popular European destinations including Greece, France, Spain and Italy are on the “amber” list which requires any holidaymakers to quarantine for 10 days on their return and take two PCR tests.
Turkey, the Maldives and Nepal have been added to the “red” list, which could lead to the Champions league final between Manchester City and Chelsea being switched to England. The Government is in talks with Uefa over the move.