Hell at Heathrow: 2,000 arrivals queue for up to 90 minutes at Terminal 5 after e-gates close

E-gate chaos may have been caused by ‘badly designed’ passenger locator form, say industry experts

Last night’s e-gate chaos at Heathrow may have been the result of a ‘badly designed’ Passenger Locator Form (PLF), industry experts have suggested.

The passport e-gates were reopened at Heathrow Terminals 2 and 5 last month after an upgrade.

The upgrade allows the e-gates to automatically link someone’s PLF, filled in online days before, to their passport.

This means the machines can check someone’s passport and entry requirements – including vaccination status.

But the rules changed on Monday night, with double-jabbed passengers arriving from ‘Amber List’ countries no longer having to quarantine on arrival in the UK.

The PLFs were adapted so passengers could tick to say they did not have to isolate. But industry experts believe passengers may have become ‘confused’ by the ‘badly designed’ form and filled in another section – which lists specific exemptions and quarantine immunities.

Industry experts say these exemptions have to be checked and, if used in an e-gate, would call for a manual check.

It is believed Border Force officials may have turned off the e-gates due to the volume of passengers with incorrect PLF forms going through the e-gates last night. 

Experts today told MailOnline that the forms had since been amended and are now ‘much clearer’. 

However, with the forms having to be filled out two days in advance of travel, it is not clear how many passengers have filled out the forms incorrectly – and how long the issue will last.

Heathrow and the Home Office has not responded to MailOnline’s request for comment. 

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The Government sparked chaos at a Heathrow border hall last night after failing to update Passenger Locator Forms ahead of its ‘Freedom Day’ rule changes – resulting in double-jabbed Britons being rejected at e-gates.

Holidaymakers arriving at Terminal 5 were left queueing for more than 90 minutes yesterday after the Government’s ‘out-of-date’ form resulted in ‘confused’ passengers filling them out wrong. 

It meant passengers were told to go to the ‘four’ Border Force staff manning the desks, sparking a build of frustrated passengers up in the Terminal’s passport hall last night.

The issue was caused when holidaymakers flying back to the UK on Monday from Amber List countries went to fill out their Passenger Locator Forms ahead of their journey.

But the travel quarantine rules changed on ‘Freedom Day’ Monday to allow double-jabbed Britons to return to the UK without having to self-isolate for up to 10 days.

Passenger locator forms need to be filled out two days in advance of travel. But those filling out the forms on Sunday, to travel on Monday, were left with the pre-‘Freedom Day’ options – arrival from a green list country or quarantine. 

There was another option of an ‘exempt list’ – but these are only for special exemptions. ‘Confused’ double-jabbed passengers, unable to see an option for their vaccination exemption ended up clicking this section.

And this led to confusion at the e-gates – because these exemptions must be checked by a Border Force officials.

It meant thousands of passengers, who thought they had filled in their forms correctly, being rejected and told to go to a manned desk. 

The situation at one point became so bad that Border Force officials closed off the e-gates and told people to go to manned desks instead – leading to a 2,000 strong queue last night.

The chaos comes four weeks after e-gates were reopened at Heathrow’s Terminals 2 and 5 following an upgrade to allow the machines to wave-through passengers from Green and Amber List countries.  

One person caught up in last night’s chaos said the situation was ‘totally unacceptable’, while another exasperated passenger branded it ‘ridiculous’. 

MailOnline has approached the Border Force, who are in charge of the operation, and Heathrow Airport for comment.

Last night passengers today took to social media to slam the lack of border staff, with one revealing that they had spent up to an hour and 45 minutes queuing at Terminal 5’s passport hall.

One Twitter user said: ‘Hi Heathrow. Is it because of the pingdemic that there’s thousands at border control and maybe 3 staff checking us in?! By my calculations I’m here until 2am. There’s babies toddlers & elderly in the queue.’ 

They said in a follow-up tweet: ‘There is a palette of water cans in the middle of the queue where people go help themselves as they go since we’re all here for hours.

‘Kids crying. The occasional shouts for opening more gates. People about to miss their connections. It’s such a s***show.

‘No e gates tonight of course. This is dumb,’ before saying: ‘MADE IT. Only 1h45 in a queue that could have been completely avoided with proper staffing.’

It is believed just four Border Force officials were left manning Terminal 5 passport hall last night when as many as 2,000 passengers arrived. Picture: Passengers queue at Heathrow Airport last night

It is believed just four Border Force officials were left manning Terminal 5 passport hall last night when as many as 2,000 passengers arrived. Picture: Passengers queue at Heathrow Airport last night

It is believed just four Border Force officials were left manning Terminal 5 passport hall last night when as many as 2,000 passengers arrived. Picture: Passengers queue at Heathrow Airport last night

Passengers at the airport say the e-gates were closed last night, while there were 'just four' Border Force staff working

Passengers at the airport say the e-gates were closed last night, while there were 'just four' Border Force staff working

Passengers at the airport say the e-gates were closed last night, while there were ‘just four’ Border Force staff working

US officials urge Americans not to travel to UK due to spike in Delta variant

The US State Department is advising Americans not to travel to the United Kingdom as the Delta variant of COVID-19 surges. 

The move by the State Department means that Britain is now at the highest warning level possible – ‘do not travel’ – on a four-part ranking.

First is ‘exercise normal precautions’; second is ‘exercise increased caution’; then comes ‘reconsider travel’. 

The warning for Britain has fluctuated between Level 3 ‘reconsider travel’, and Level 4 ‘do not travel’, several times this year already. 

In May, the US government had lowered the U.K. to a Level 3 advisory rating.

The latest upgrade comes as COVID cases across the U.K. soared by 52 per cent week-on-week, with the number of deaths falling slightly. 

The U.K. on Sunday recorded 48,161 COVID cases – up from the 31,772 cases recorded last Sunday. 

The State Department’s decision comes hours after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its own advice, recommending that U.S. citizens do not visit the U.K. 

 

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Another wrote: ‘So many people – including elderly and young children waiting for the border police to check their documents…. why there not more officers here?

‘Totally unacceptable for an airport like Heathrow. This is so late now, hope to catch the last train.’

It is not clear why the e-gates were shut last night. However, Channel 4 presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy last night tweeted that a Border Force officer had told him that the new gates had not been updated to reflect new travel rules brought in as part of ‘Freedom Day’. 

MailOnline has contacted the Border Force, via the Home Office, and Heathrow Airport for comment.

Heathrow last night, responding to another Twitter user who had complained about the queues, saying that they were ‘working with Border Force to reduce queuing times’.

It comes as the Telegraph last week reported a security staff shortage at Heathrow due to staff being ‘pinged’ by the NHS Covid App. 

According to the paper, the Border Force were down 120 security personnel last Monday after staff were told to self-isolate.

Passengers reportedly queued for up to 150 minutes due to the border staffing shortfall. 

Extra security staff were later drafted in to redress the shortfall, Heathrow said. 

Meanwhile, the Heathrow e-gates reopened at Terminals 2 and 5 last month after being closed for upgrades – with more due to be reopened later this summer following testing. 

The e-gates were adapted earlier this year so they can be used by passengers returning from green or amber list countries. 

But, according to the Telegraph, whose Travel correspondent John Arlidge was caught in last night’s chaos, the e-gates had trouble determining the new quarantine rules – because the option of not having to quarantine was not given on the Passenger Locator Form.

He wrote: ‘There is currently no button on the UK’s Passenger Locator Form (PFL) to declare that you are exempt from self-isolation because you are fully double vaccinated and coming from an amber country.

Government ‘did not act unlawfully’ over traffic light system, judge rules 

The UK Government did not act unlawfully over its travel traffic light system, a judge has today ruled.

In a High Court battle, brought by Manchester Airports Group and backed by a number of airlines, the judge said the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, acted ‘lawfully’ in implementing the system.

A judge also ruled that the Government did not have to disclose more information on how it reaches decisions over its travel rules. 

Those behind the legal challenge today said in a joint statement: ‘British businesses and consumers deserve to understand how the Government takes decisions on the traffic light system so that they can book their travel with confidence.’

Businesses included in the High Court challenge include budget airlines easyJet and Ryanair.

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‘If you tell the truth on the locator form and say you are exempt and tick the “Government / Assembly Approved” reason – which is the only option that makes any sense – you cannot use the E-gates.’

It comes as the Government yesterday eased travel restrictions by dropping the requirement for double-jabbed passengers arriving in the UK from amber-list countries.

As of 4am on Monday, July 19, passengers from Amber List countries are no longer required to undertake an up-to-day 10-day home quarantine.  

The rule does not apply to Amber List France, which was put on what is being dubbed the ‘Amber Plus’ list due to rising cases of the Beta (South African) variant.

The rules were last night branded ‘excessive’ by a French minister Clement Beaune, who told French channel BFM TV: ‘It seems to us that the measures taken by the UK are not entirely based on scientific foundations.’

Meanwhile, the Balearic islands were also moved from the UK’s quarantine free Green List to the Amber List.

The sudden move – which came just weeks after the Balearics were moved on to the Green List – sparked unvaccinated Britons holidaying in the likes of Mallorca and Ibiza to make a mad dash for the airports in order to make it back to the UK before the rule change.

Bulgaria and Croatia went the other way, going from amber to green, along with Taiwan and Hong Kong.

However Bulgaria has since banned UK holidaymakers by adding Britain to its ‘red zone’ list – which means only essential journeys can be made. 

French minister says Britain’s strict rules insisting double-jabbed arrivals must isolate are ‘excessive’ – and insists the Beta variant is under control in his country 

By Henry Martin for MailOnline

Strict rules on arrivals in the UK from France were branded ‘excessive’ by a French minister yesterday amid a furious Whitehall row about who took the controversial decision.

Clement Beaune said the UK’s decision to insist double-jabbed travellers must isolate was not based on scientific evidence.

And he insisted the Beta variant – blamed for the last-minute U-turn on relaxing quarantine for the fully vaccinated – was under control in France.

European affairs minister Mr Beaune told French channel BFM TV: ‘It seems to us that the measures taken by the UK are not entirely based on scientific foundations. We find them excessive.

‘This decision is based on the circulation of the Beta variant, the South African variant, which is in reality now well under control.’

It has been claimed that Britain’s decision to exclude France from the new relaxed rules for double-jabbed arrivals from amber list countries had been based on figures including those from a remote French overseas territory where the Beta variant is more common.

The Indian Ocean island of Reunion recorded 1,450 cases of Covid-19 between July 3 and 9, of which 91 per cent were the Beta and Gamma variants.

The Beta variant has accounted for about 5 per cent of cases in mainland France over recent months, according to Downing Street, but it is feared to be more resistant to vaccines. 

The Prime Minister’s spokesman said yesterday: ‘The AstraZeneca vaccine appears to be less effective against the Beta variant, that’s why we need to be very cautious about that.

‘What the data publicly available in France shows, and this data does not include Reunion, is that over the past three months on average the Beta variant accounts for around 5 per cent of cases.

‘And that’s a relatively high prevalence which potentially poses a risk to the UK and that’s why it was right to move swiftly.

It comes as the US yesterday upgraded the UK to the highest risk level and warned Americans not to travel here.

Washington informed citizens yesterday there is a ‘very high level of Covid-19’ in Britain.

Meanwhile, a blame game continues in the UK Government over which minister decided late on Friday to change the rules for France, ruining thousands of Britons’ trips and bringing fresh anguish to the struggling travel industry. 

Clement Beaune said the UK's decision to insist double-jabbed travellers must isolate was not based on scientific evidence

Clement Beaune said the UK's decision to insist double-jabbed travellers must isolate was not based on scientific evidence

Clement Beaune said the UK’s decision to insist double-jabbed travellers must isolate was not based on scientific evidence

It has been claimed that Britain's decision to exclude France from the new relaxed rules for double-jabbed arrivals from amber list countries had been based on figures including those from a remote French overseas territory where the Beta variant is more common (pictured: Heathrow, June 3)

It has been claimed that Britain's decision to exclude France from the new relaxed rules for double-jabbed arrivals from amber list countries had been based on figures including those from a remote French overseas territory where the Beta variant is more common (pictured: Heathrow, June 3)

It has been claimed that Britain’s decision to exclude France from the new relaxed rules for double-jabbed arrivals from amber list countries had been based on figures including those from a remote French overseas territory where the Beta variant is more common (pictured: Heathrow, June 3) 

It is thought that Boris Johnson, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove and Health Secretary Sajid Javid were behind the move.

The Department of Health is said to have overreacted to Covid figures in France. On Sunday another 12,532 cases were reported, compared with 48,161 in the UK.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is thought not to have been invited to the meeting at which France was effectively placed in a new ‘amber-plus’ category, just hours after the review of the traffic light system was announced.

A Whitehall source described the decision-making process as ‘shambolic’. Mark Tanzer, chief executive of Abta, the UK’s largest travel association, said: ‘There’s a lack of transparency around how decisions are being made’, adding: ‘With France there was no indication about the change of direction… And that’s likely to impair consumer confidence to book until they see this settling down into a much more predictable system.’

The Department of Health said last night: ‘The Joint Biosecurity Centre has assessed that France is a high-risk Covid-19 destination due to the circulation of variants of concern, most notably the Beta variant, which presents the greatest risk for UK vaccine escape.’

 

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