Queues so long at Heathrow airport that passengers including a pregnant woman fainted are “unacceptable”, the Home Office has said.
One holidaymaker, Sonny Singh, said he saw the woman pass out while waiting for immigration checks on Friday night.
“There were thousands of families queuing and just two people in booths up front checking documents,” he told Sky News.
“Children were screaming and crying.
“The queue moved about five feet in the space of about 45 minutes. Then, when the pregnant woman fainted, it finally got through to someone somewhere – the kids were then put on the side to sit while the adults waited in the queue and it began moving faster.”
The Home Office criticised UK Border Force, its own immigration agency, saying the scenes were “unacceptable”, adding that officers will be reviewing capacity and deploying more staff to the airport to reduce waiting times.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Throughout the pandemic we have been clear that queue times may be longer as we ensure all passengers are compliant with the health measures put in place to keep the UK public safe.
“However, the very long wait times we saw at Heathrow last night are unacceptable.
“This is the busiest weekend of the year for returning passengers, with particularly high numbers of families with children under the age of 12 who cannot use e-gates.”
Mr Singh’s family eventually left the airport just after midnight – three hours after landing – at which point the trains had stopped running.
“We only live about three miles away and cabs were by then charging up to £70,” he added.
Another traveller told Sky News he and his pregnant wife had to wait for two hours after returning from holiday in Malta.
“Honestly, it was absolute carnage,” said Jason Reed.
“My wife is pregnant and has a bad back so was really uncomfortable and tired. Was also extremely hot with no ventilation.
“We saw a man had fainted along with way with lots of police around.
“When we reached the passport control hall, they had opened the eGates which we managed to get through after a couple of hours queuing. Our passenger locator forms were not even checked.
“All the families with children were being ushered into an even longer and worse queue – as they couldn’t use the eGates – we felt really sorry for them.
“Lots of people were really struggling.”
Another passenger Noel Braganza, who landed on Friday evening, said it was the “opposite” of COVID secure.
He had flown to the UK from Sweden to reunite with family for the first time in two years, with his nephews ending up waiting for him for two hours.
He said the staff were “not helpful at all” and were “just trying to ignore annoyed travellers the best they could”.
Mr Braganza added: “I just wish someone just said ‘Hang in there everyone. This is just because everyone arrived at the same time and we are not very quick processing travellers.”
A spokesperson added to pressure on Border Force saying: “We are very sorry that passengers faced unacceptable queueing times in immigration due to too few Border Force officers on duty.
“Border Force were aware of the extra demand from families and we are very disappointed that they did not provide sufficient resource.
“We have additional Heathrow colleagues to support in managing queues and to hand out passenger welfare including water but we need every immigration desk to be staffed at peak times.
“We have escalated this with Border Force and expect them to provide a better service over the remainder of the weekend.”