A “human logjam” has formed at Heathrow as crowds of people struggle to get through customs after e-gates failed, leaving some stranded on their planes.
The unspecified technical problem has been confirmed to have affected other airports, including Edinburgh and Manchester.
In a statement to Sky News, Heathrow said the problem had affected the Border Force’s “eGates” operated by the home office and affected a number of ports of entry.
One person complained to the airport on Twitter: “Please organize yourselves. We have been queuing outside the customs in a queue for over half an hour, not near the front and the customs are full.
“Terrible service. We got through Calgary airport within 10 minutes. You must feel ashamed,” they added.
Others shared photos of long queues at other air and rail ports, including Manchester, where despite the amount of wearing face masks, there was no room for social distance.
“Shocking queues in Terminal 5 this morning! Why are the e-gates not open ?! Like arriving in a third country!” said another.
Documentary maker Louis Theroux called the queue at Heathrow a “human log jam”, and a passenger told Sky News it took them three hours from the wheels down to the baggage claim.
A passenger told Sky News that his plane was parked on the taxi at the airport with engines off.
People on board the plane were told the plane could not approach the gates due to “a total system failure across the UK”.
30 minutes after landing at Heathrow we are now at a stand / gate. @British_Airways pilot says he is awaiting an update from the Border Force on the e-gate system crash before anyone gets off.
Sounds like a queue lasting a few hours waiting for us at passport control. pic.twitter.com/Bj3fQnv7pK
Joe Pike @joepike September 24, 2021
The airport said on Twitter that “queue times are at unacceptable levels”, adding that it has called on the government “to resolve the issue as soon as possible” and told passengers “we appreciate your patience”.
Brigitte Fink complained: “Passengers arriving had to stand in the transit tunnel at Terminal 5, packed without ventilation, because border control had a line of 160+ minutes.”
“Even with errors in the e-system, the management of the situation at Heathrow and border controls have gone from bad to worse with passengers stuck in the transit tunnels. Heathrow staff began handing out cans of water,” Fink added.
Put on the runway at Heathrow unable to park due to problems with border control computer systems inside the terminal. Pilot calls it “frustrating” but “paradise” out here in relation to the apparent situation inside. Says more planes and “several hundred” people are stuck. pic.twitter.com/eKHE0aL0n3
– Mollie Malone (@ Mollie_Malone1) September 24, 2021
In a statement sent to Sky News, a spokesman for the airport said: “We are aware of a system error affecting the e-ports, which are manned and operated by the Border Force.
“This problem affects a number of ports of entry and is not an isolated problem at Heathrow,” they added.
Edinburgh Airport confirmed that it was among the affected airports.
⚠️ | Border Force colleagues are working to rectify an IT issue that results in delays for arriving passengers.
Passengers will still be able to cross the border, but this will take a little longer than usual while the issue is resolved.
Thank you for your patience.
– Edinburgh Airport (@EDI_Airport) September 24, 2021
A spokesman for the home office told Sky News: “This afternoon a technical problem hit eGates in a number of ports. The problem was quickly identified and is now resolved.”
Despite the technical problem being solved, there are long queues left where a number of passengers complain about being told to stay in their plane rather than get off and experience the “hell” conditions inside the airports.
“We have worked hard to minimize disruptions and apologize to all passengers for the inconvenience caused,” the home office continued.
They refused to respond to how the department would seek to help treat the passengers stuck in their plane, and refused to identify the cause of the incident.
The Border Force has over 270 eGates at 15 air and rail ports around the country “to enable faster travel to the UK”, it said.
The outage follows further criticism of the Border Force from Heathrow Airport following delays earlier this month, the time believed to be caused by low manning.
Passengers in line told Sky News today that Heathrow staff going up and down blamed the Border Force for the national shutdown of the eGates system.
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