Travellers faced “total chaos” at UK airports with queues of up to three hours as thousands jetted off on summer holiday.
Staff shortages caused by the NHS Track and Trace ‘pingdemic’ and broken machines were blamed for the huge delays on Saturday (24 July).
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‘Busiest weekend of the year’
Airports and airlines are expecting their busiest weekend of the year now that schools have closed and the summer holidays have begun for millions.
Heathrow Airport is anticipating around 128,000 passengers to check in on Saturday and Sunday, although this is still significantly lower than pre-pandemic daily volumes of around 230,000 to 260,000 in July 2019.
Gatwick said it expected to see between 25,000 and 27,000 passengers per day, a huge increase from lows of just 950 flights daily at the same time last year.
Manchester Airports Group said it is expecting 958 flights at Manchester Airport from Friday to Monday, 224 flights are due to depart from East Midlands Airport and 1,330 at London Stansted.
This is up from the 632, 177 and 735 respectively during the same weekend last year, but still well below the 2,512 at Manchester, 503 at East Midlands and 2,139 at London Stansted in July 2019.
Airline easyJet said it is preparing to carry more than 135,000 passengers this weekend from the UK on more than 80 routes to green and amber-list destinations across Europe, including Malta, Malaga, Lisbon, Corfu and Athens.
Meanwhile Tui said it has almost double the number of passengers travelling from Friday to Sunday compared to last weekend, with the Balearics and Greece the “clear favourites” and Palma, Ibiza and Rhodes the most popular destinations.
Jet2 said it has 170 flights departing to more than 40 destinations over the weekend, up from around 70 to just six locations on the previous weekend.
‘Chaotic’ scenes as travellers face border delays
While the possibility to travel abroad has been long-awaited, the return of foreign travel has not been without its delays, with travellers at Heathrow forced to wait hours to check in.
Border Force staff are eligible to be exempt from self-isolation if agreed by their employers, and only if they have been fully vaccinated, but it seems some staff may not have qualified in time for the weekend rush.
Travellers returning to the UK faced queues of up to three hours after self-service passport e-gates broke down and only one official checked papers. Heathrow said this was an isolated incident at one terminal and extra Border Force staff had been brought in to help.
Fiona Brett, a violinist travelling to Frankfurt with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, said she had to queue for two hours to check in to her flight from London Heathrow on Saturday morning.
Ms Brett, from Watlington, Oxfordshire, had checked in online but still had to show her Covid vaccination certificate to staff and said the “total chaos” led to her 9.30am flight being delayed.
She said: “They were constantly calling people out of the queue for the next flight that was closing. Actually it would have been better to turn up at 8.30 and get called from the back of the queue to the front – total chaos.
“When I finally managed to check in (15 mins after the flight should have closed) the security queues were non-existent and there was virtually no one airside in the terminal.
“I believe the queues were caused not by too many people but by the airlines having to do all the extra checks before properly checking in.”
Fellow passengers also complained of huge delays at London Stansted took to social media to complain about queues at London Stansted, describing the scenes as “chaotic”.
Twitter user Dr Robert Baunsbak Coull said: “@Ryanair totally unacceptable scenes at Stansted Airport with total lack of staff on the ground, queues of lost passengers and chaotic scenes. #superspreader #covid19.”
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