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Thousands of Passengers Forced into an Unventilated Underground Tunnel for Hours at Heathrow Airport

Thousands of Passengers Forced into an Unventilated Underground Tunnel for Hours at Heathrow Airport

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Thousands of passengers were forced to wait for hours in an underground tunnel at Heathrow Airport on Friday night as massive queues to get through immigration and over the UK border overwhelmed the airport. Passengers complained that the cramped and unventilated tunnels and hallways were a breeding ground for COVID-19 transmission.

Amidst the chaos, grown men reportedly fainted and pregnant women were forced to stand for hours while they waited to be seen by an immigration officer. The airport placed the blame squarely on Border Force for its failure to provide enough officers to deal with the hordes 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 said in one tweet, amidst reports that just two officers were on duty in one of Heathrow’s four terminals.

One passenger caught up in the crush, said Heathrow’s explanation was “absolute rubbish”. “I was one of those passengers forced to queue last night in unacceptable conditions and no one checked anything other than my passport,” Susannah Howard said on Twitter on Saturday.

A lack of Border Force manpower was compounded by the fact that automated e-gates sat idle because families with children under the age of 12 are banned from using them. Instead, families with young children were forced to set up camp on the floor as they waited for long, snaking lines of people to move forward.

“Still reeling over the situation at Heathrow yesterday,” commented Helen Salvin, who was also caught up in the crowded underground tunnel 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 described the length of the queues as “unacceptable” and said it was pressing Border Force to address the delays as “a matter of urgency”.

“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 so far declined to comment on the chaotic scenes, while the Home Office criticised its own immigration department, agreeing with Heathrow that the scenes 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.”

View Comment (1)
  • Can people traveling without children walk past the line and use the EGates? If not why isn’t there a separate EGates flow all the way back?

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