Chaos at Heathrow and other airports as electronic passport gates fail


September 24, 2021
Heathrow chaos

Britain’s electronic passport gates failed this morning, bringing chaos and four-hour queues to Heathrow.

E-gates, which read passengers’ passports, are used to process the vast majority of British and European arrivals at the UK border. The Home Office said that it was aware of a “technical issue”.

The problem is understood to be nationwide. A Heathrow spokesman said: “We are aware of a systems failure impacting the e-gates, which are staffed and operated by Border Force. This issue is impacting a number of ports of entry and is not an isolated issue at Heathrow. Our teams are working closely with Border Force to find a solution as quickly as possible.”

The outage means that passengers are only able to be processed manually. The Border Force could not be reached for comment. A senior aviation source told Travelling For Business that there was “chaos at the UK border”.

The new problems follow a summer of disruption. Passengers returning to the UK at the end of lockdown faced queues of up to six hours because of a lack of immigration officers, who were forced to work in “bubbles” because of social-distancing rules. E-gates were also closed when foreign leisure travel resumed on May 17 because they were unable to recognise passenger locator forms, which must be completed by every arrival into the country to support the NHS Test and Trace system.

The documentary-maker Louis Theroux, who was at Heathrow Terminal 5, described the queues as a “human logjam” and said an official had told them that e-gates were down at “all the airports”.

Dr Megan Leitch, another passenger, tweeted: “Me at Heathrow, after flight delays and pandemic drama: hooray, I made it! Heathrow: due to a nationwide systems failure, all customs e-gates are currently out of commission, and you may be in this queue for untold hours.”

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