Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye is warning that arriving passengers could be held in hours’-long queues at the airport once the ban on non-essential travel is lifted, possibly on 17 May.
He said he’s not confident Border Force officials will be able to cope with the anticipated sudden increase in passengers.
Already, there are massive queues at the airport as officials are taking longer to check documents, which include passenger locator forms and COVID test certificates.
On some days, passengers are being held in the arrivals hall for up to six hours, said the airport, even though passenger numbers are down 90%.
“We have less than 10% of our normal passengers, but they [BF] have no fewer staff than they have before the crisis,” Mr Holland-Kaye told the BBC. “So, this is entirely manageable by Border Force if only they man their desks properly.”
The Home Office said paperwork and health checks would mean more delays, but the airport told Travel Gossip it has ‘repeatedly’ asked Border Force to simplify the enhanced checks, which it says should be automated and adequately resourced.
“We have not seen quite enough action to ensure we are confident that Border Force can cope on 17 May,” Mr Holland-Kaye told the BBC.
A Home Office spokesperson told Travel Gossip that one of the problems is that electronic gates at Heathrow can’t be used at the moment because an official needs to check a passengers’ paperwork before they enter. He said the Government plans to integrate the passenger locator form into the UK border system allowing e-gates to check the documents, but this might not happen before autumn.
In the meantime, he said: “We are in a global health pandemic, and people should not be travelling unless absolutely necessary.
“Queues and wait times will be longer if passengers have not completed the necessary requirements to enter the UK.
“Airlines are responsible for making sure that their passengers have completed all the necessary requirements, and airports have a crucial responsibility for ensuring travellers can social distance at passport control.
“Border Force is checking that every passenger has complied with current health measures when arriving at the border. Passengers should currently expect queues and wait times to be longer than normal.”
It was revealed last week that ministers have asked Heathrow to provide a separate terminal for passengers arriving from red list countries to prevent them mingling for hours with those from low-risk destinations.
The airport said it was still looking at whether it could provide an economically-viable dedicated arrivals facility for passenger from red-listed countries, but added: “Our main concern is that UK Border Force is able to provide an acceptable level of service to all arriving passengers.”
Heathrow announced today that it had lost another £329 million in the first three months of 2021, pushing its total losses during the pandemic to £2.4 billion.