Thousands of travelers were forced to wait for hours in an underground tunnel at Heathrow Airport on Friday night due to enormous lines to get through immigration and across the UK border.
Passengers reported that the suffocated and unventilated tunnels and corridors were a breeding environment for COVID-19 transmission.
Adult men reportedly fainted in the midst of the turmoil, and pregnant ladies were forced to stand for hours while waiting to be seen by an immigration official. The airport blamed Border Force for failing to deploy enough officers to deal with the swarms of passengers.
“Border Force is currently experiencing some delays as they conduct Health Measure Checks to ensure passenger compliance with the UK Government’s latest entry requirements,” the airport tweeted, amid allegations that only two officers were on duty in one of Heathrow’s four terminals.
Heathrow’s response, according to one traveler caught up in the crowd, was “absolutely rubbish.” Susannah Howard posted on Twitter on Saturday, “I was one of those passengers forced to queue last night in unacceptable conditions and no one checked anything other than my passport,”
A shortage of Border Force personnel was exacerbated by the fact that automated e-gates remained inactive because families with children under the age of 12 were not permitted to use them.
Instead, families with little children were forced to camp out on the floor while waiting in lengthy, snaking lines of people to get forward.
“Still reeling over the situation at Heathrow yesterday,” said Helen Salvin, who was also caught up in the crowded underground corridor at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 on Friday night.
“How can the UK’s leading airport get it so wrong?! 3 hours from start to finish. Speaking to people on the ground, management has no idea about what happens on the front lines,” she continued.
“There was no help or reply last night when you locked us underground for an hour with no info or water,” wrote another Twitter user.
Heathrow later condemned the length of the lines as “unacceptable,” and stated that it was pressuring Border Force to address the delays “as soon as possible.”
“Our teams are on hand to support where possible in managing queues and to hand out passenger welfare including water,” the statement from the airport continued.
Border Force has yet to comment on the chaotic scenes, while the Home Office chastised its own immigration service, agreeing with Heathrow that the actions on Friday night were “unacceptable.”
“Throughout the pandemic we have been clear that queue times may be longer as we ensure all passengers are compliant with the health measures put in place to keep the UK public safe,” a spokesperson for Britain’s interior ministry said.
“However, the very long wait times we saw at Heathrow last night are unacceptable,” the statement continued.
“This is the busiest weekend of the year for returning passengers, with particularly high numbers of families with children under the age of 12 who cannot use e-gates.”
Image source: Twitter