School coaches face 12-hour waits at Dover amid Easter travel chaos
School coaches faced waits of up to 12 hours at Dover on Saturday morning as the Easter getaway began.
The port declared a critical incident on Friday night, blaming “lengthy French border processes and sheer volume" for the delays, as well as "additional coach bookings" taken by Ferry operators for Easter.
P&O Ferries and DFDS Seaways also reported disruption to ferry and coach services, citing bad weather and hold-ups at French border controls as partly responsible for waits and queues.
Dover said wait times just before 9am on Saturday were still “several hours”, but that tourist cars were “getting through ok”.
Passengers have been advised to check with their chosen ferry operator for information, and ensure they set off with "plenty of food and drink and entertainment" as delays are expected to continue throughout the day.
Teachers and parents complained of waits of up to 12 hours for school coaches to board ferries, as the first day of the Easter holidays coincided with many school ski trips.
One parent wrote on social media that the school bus his child was travelling on reached Dover at 10:30am and only made it through passport control at 10pm that night.
Not P&O or Dover ports. My kids school have been there since 10:30 and got through passport control at 22:00. No food or drink since Birchanger Services at 07:30.
— Paul Wallace (@woll78) March 31, 2023
Students from Chessington School in London, who were embarking on a ski trip to Austria for the Easter holidays, faced an almost eight-hour wait at Dover before boarding the ferry.
One teacher at the school, who did not want to be named, told The Telegraph: “We got to Dover at 7:40 in the evening and didn’t get on the ferry until 3:30.
“We got a free food and drink voucher. There was a coach ahead of us saying they had an 11-hour wait. There were a few tears on the ferry, but there’s nothing we can do.”
Another teacher said that she and her students had departed at 4pm, and were still at the port of Dover at 6.30am on Saturday morning.
Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, urged the Government to "get a grip" of the situation.
"I really feel for people trying to get through Dover. There will have been families who have booked holidays and now they are frustrated yet again and I think the nature of the frustration will be 'not again'," he said.
"This is not the first time there have been problems at Dover. The Government needs to get a grip of this."
P&O Ferries apologised for the wait times for coaches sailing from Dover, while DFDS said it is expecting a busy weekend and advised passengers to allow extra time to complete border and check-in controls.
Port traffic in France 'free flowing'
Despite the major delays to British passengers, port traffic was reportedly "free flowing" through check-in and border controls at Dunkirk and Calais on Saturday morning.
A statement from the port on Saturday morning said: "The Port of Dover is deeply frustrated by last night's and this morning's situation and particularly so on behalf of all the ferry operators' coach passengers who have had to endure such a long wait at the port.
"Whilst freight and car traffic was processed steadily regardless of the additional challenging weather conditions and high seasonal volumes, coach traffic suffered significant delays due to lengthy French border processes and sheer volume.
"Despite considerable pre-planning with our ferry operators, border agency partners and the Kent Resilience Forum, and the success of similar plans for processing substantial numbers of coaches during the most recent half-term period, the additional coach bookings taken by ferry operators for Easter has impacted operations for the port."
The port said food and drink has been provided to coach passengers in the queues, adding: "We offer our sincere apologies for the prolonged delays that people have endured and continue to work with all of our partners to get all passengers on their way as quickly as possible."