Heathrow warns flights may be diverted to other airports if Covid queues become too long

HEATHROW has warned that flights may be diverted to other airports if queues become too long amid warnings that wait times could be 15 times longer.

Passengers have been warned that they should prepare for delays as foreign travel springs back to life from May 17.

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The airport reacted angrily to the heads up from Border Force last week.

Border Force director-general Paul Lincoln said it could take up to 15 times longer to process people than before the coronavirus pandemic due to the extra checks that will be required.

In a statement, a spokesman for Heathrow insisted that such delays were "unnecessary and completely avoidable" if extra resources were put in place to deal with the additional checks.

However, he confirmed that there were "protocols in place" to divert flights or to hold passengers on planes if the build-up becomes too great.

UNNECESSARY AND COMPLETELY AVOIDABLE

"Instead of telling passengers to brace themselves for a long wait in immigration queues, Border Force should step up its efforts to automate checks for green list countries, and put in place additional resource for passengers where manual checks might be needed," the spokesman said.

"Accepting delays is a further demonstration of complacency from them on the matter.

"There are protocols in place to hold passengers on planes or divert them to other airports, to prevent excessive, unnecessary and completely avoidable queues in immigration halls."

The disclosure is another blow for the beleaguered travel industry disappointed at the limited "green list" released by the Government of countries from which returning travellers do not need to isolate.

The Home Office said that additional staff were being mobilised to minimise queues but insisted that protecting public health had to be the first priority.

YET ANOTHER BLOW

A spokeswoman said: "Protecting public health is our priority and as we reopen international travel safely we will maintain 100% health checks at the border to protect the wider public and our vaccine rollout.

"While we do this, wait times are likely to be longer and we will do all we can to smooth the process, including the rollout of our e-Gate upgrade programme during the summer and deploying additional Border Force officers."

This comes as OnTheBeach has suspended all new holiday bookings until August 31 because of growing uncertainty on international travel and confusion over the Government’s traffic light system.

The online giant will not sell any further holidays until the end of summer, but will honour bookings already made before May 12.

Boss Simon Cooper said: “There’s nothing we want more than to be able to send customers on holiday, but with the current number of unknowns we don’t think that now is the right time for customers to book new holidays departing in the next few months.

“We don’t know enough yet about how the traffic light system will work in practice, and it doesn’t currently give any certainty or clarity.

“There is likelihood of disruption or even cancellations for the many customers who want to book more than three weeks in advance.

“Given this, there is too much uncertainty for us to take new bookings with confidence that they will go ahead.

“As a result, we have taken the decision to stop selling holidays for this summer until customers have greater clarity and can make more informed booking decisions.”

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