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Heathrow boss accuses Border Force of ‘complacency’ as airport loses 6.2m passengers in April

·2-min read
Empty quarter: Heathrow lost 92% of its passengers during April (Simon Calder)
Empty quarter: Heathrow lost 92% of its passengers during April (Simon Calder)

The boss of Britain’s busiest airport has accused UK Border Force of ‘complacency’ over predicted long queues for immigration.

Heathrow’s chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, was speaking after reporting a continuing decline in passenger numbers as travel restrictions intensified.

The airport handled only 489,000 passengers during April, representing barely 16,000 per day – compared with an average of 222,000 daily arrivals and departures in 2019.

The decline compared with April 2019 was 92.1 per cent – even worse than the figures for January to March this year. It represents 6.2 million passengers.

Only two of Heathrow’s four terminals are currently open.

Numbers are expected to increase sharply from Monday 17 May when the current ban on international leisure travel is lifted. But the UK Border Force has warned that arriving travellers face long delays because of “non-compliant passengers” who fail to have their Covid-related documentation in place.

Mr Holland-Kaye said: “Border Force’s claims that ‘long queues in immigration are inevitable’ smack of complacency.

“They are completely avoidable if ministers ensure that all desks are staffed at peak times.”

On Friday the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, warned: “We do expect longer delays at the airport.”

Paul Lincoln, the force’s director-general, said delays were inevitable because of the need to check.

He told a Downing Street press conference: “There are currently more Border Force officers processing passengers at Heathrow than at any other time since the 2012 Olympics.”

Mr Lincoln said that a passenger’s documentation takes five to 10 minutes to check, even for the “the most compliant passenger”.

Heathrow’s chief executive also demanded that the government publishes “a list of countries expected to be on the green list for the summer holidays so that passengers are not faced with high prices for last minute bookings”.

Since Portugal was revealed as the only major European country from which quarantine will not be required, some air fares to the Algarve have quadrupled.

The travel industry has deplored the limited extent of the green list, whose only feasible members besides Portugal are Israel, Iceland and Gibraltar.

MrHolland-Kaye said: “The government’s green list is very welcome, but they need to expand it massively in the next few weeks to include other low risk markets such as the United States, and remove the need for fully vaccinated passengers to take two expensive PCR tests.”

The transport secretary said on Friday: “The only route out of this pandemic is a careful, prudent, responsible one.”

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