Heathrow said Border Force, which operates the checkpoint at the airport, knew there would be additional demand and said it was “very disappointed” that it did not have enough staff on duty on Friday evening.
As of Monday, passengers have complained about wait times of up to five hours, as well as a lack of social distancing and access to toilets and water during a process they have described as “incompetent” and “ridiculous”.
Many have taken to social media to share their displeasure. Garry Hadiwibowo wrote on Twitter that the system was “messy”, with babies crying, families arguing and “only 2 open offices”.
Adina Chirodea reported that people were collapsing “due to overcrowding and lack of ventilation” in the queues.
In response to the complaints, a Heathrow spokesperson apologized for the wait times on Saturday afternoon, while blaming the government agency.
She said: “We are very sorry that the passengers faced unacceptable immigration wait times last night due to the too few border force officers on duty.
“Border Force was aware of the additional demand from families and we were very disappointed that they were not providing enough resources.
“Other colleagues at Heathrow have been helped with queue management and distributed passenger welfare including water, but we need every immigration office to be staffed to rush hours.
A spokesperson for the Home Office also acknowledged that wait times were “unacceptable” and said the Border Force was actively working to improve them.
They said: ‘Throughout the pandemic we have made it clear that wait times may be longer as we make sure all passengers comply with the health measures put in place to keep the public safe. British. However, the very long wait times we saw at Heathrow last night are unacceptable.
“It’s the busiest weekend of the year for returning passengers, with a particularly high number of families with children under 12 who cannot use electronic gates. “
The Home Office said the Border Force was “rapidly reviewing” its rosters, capacity and flexibility to deploy staff to the airport to improve wait times.
The spokesperson added that the Home Office was working “very closely” with Heathrow Airport and that all parties involved were “committed to ensuring that all passengers can travel safely and hassle-free. “.
Despite the apologies and commitments, passengers arriving at Heathrow continued to complain about long wait times and the limited number of border forces officers at 7.20pm on Saturday.
Twitter user @sannaayaah said: “Once again the same chaos at arrivals at Heathrow !! A few hundred passengers have been queuing for 2 hours and only 2 agents available at border control !! ”