Passengers flying into London Heathrow could be diverted to other airports this summer if there are long queues in its arrival halls.
A Heathrow spokesperson said the airport has protocols in place to either hold passengers on planes or divert them to other airports to prevent excessive queues at immigration.
However, they did not say where flights would be diverted to or if Heathrow has discussed this possibility with other airports, such as Gatwick, Luton or Stansted.
Gatwick said: “We will be very focused on managing our own passengers from next week, rather than those from other airports.” A spokesperson said arrivals might experience queues on arrival due to the extra checks, but added: “We are going to do all we can to ensure these are minimized and to make sure we keep people as comfortable as possible.”
Stansted confirmed to Travel Gossip that is has not been approached by Heathrow to discuss the option of flights being diverted.
Stansted said it hasn’t experienced any delays at immigration during the pandemic, but added: “We remain in conversation with Border Force about how they are going to ensure they appropriately resourced and organised for when we welcome higher volumes of passengers through the airport.”
Luton Airport said: “Diverts are usually managed by Air Traffic Control rather than agreements between airports.
“As we are not a designated port for red list countries, we wouldn’t be able to accept any diversions from those destinations and due to the size of our runway there are also restrictions around the type of aircraft we can receive.
“We’ve not experienced queues at immigration on the scale reported, an we’re working with Border Force and all of our partners to ensure any enhanced checks at the border are managed as efficiently as possible. We’re also calling on the Government to ensure the process is as simple and smooth as possible.”
Heathrow repeated its call for Border Force to step up its efforts to automate checks on passengers arriving from 12 countries on the Government’s ‘green’ travel list from 17 May, who will be the only ones that required not to quarantine in the UK.
Heathrow has reported queues of six hours or more over the past few weeks, due to the need for Border Force to hand check every passenger’s locator form (PLF) and COVID test results, and ensure a handover of those who need to quarantine in a hotel.
Border Force says it plans to incorporate test results and PLFs into the e-gates, but this work won’t be complete until later in the summer.
In the meantime, it has warned that checks are taking up five to 10 minutes per passenger instead of the usual 25 seconds, which will inevitably lead to long queues as the number of arrivals increases from 17 May.
Heathrow’s spokesperson said: “Instead of telling passengers to brace themselves for a long wait in immigration queues, Border Force should step up its efforts to automate checks for green list countries, and put in place additional resource for passengers where manual checks might be needed.
“Accepting delays is a further demonstration of complacency from them on the matter.
“There are protocols in place to hold passengers on planes or divert them to other airports, to prevent excessive, unnecessary and completely avoidable queues in immigration halls.”