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Holidaymakers could face major disruption at passport halls until summer due to the ‘catastrophic understaffing’ of Border Force, according to union chiefs – who have today warned resources are being stretched between dealing with airports and processing Channel migrants.

While pressure is currently on understaffed airports flying jet-setting Britons out of the country, union bosses have sounded the alarm about the possibility of chaos for UK arrivals on Easter Monday.

Holidaymakers are expected to return in their hundreds of thousands on Monday, following a four-day weekend and the end of the Easter school holidays.

Passenger numbers could hit as high as 80 per cent of pre-pandemic levels over the weekend, experts predict, at a time when airports are still struggling to re-staff after downsizing their operations during the Covid pandemic.

Figures dropped by as much as 75 per cent between 2019 and 2020, from 297million to just 74million in 2020. However airports have struggled to recruit, train and obtain security clearance for staff in time for the Easter school holidays.

This, along with Covid absences, has been behind long queues at check-in and security at airports such as Heathrow, Birmingham and Manchester since Friday.

But officials now have warned that an influx of passengers arriving back in the UK, combined with staffing issues within Border Force, could result in huge queues and long waits at airport immigration halls.

Lucy Moreton, General Secretary of the Immigration Services Union (ISU), also said  Border Force employees were being moved from transport hub in the south to Dover to help process migrants crossing the Channel in small boats. 

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Those staff, she said, are in turn being replaced by immigration officials from airports in Scotland and Northern Ireland. However she warned this was leading to spiralling costs for the taxpayer.

Speaking about the airport crisis Ms Moreton told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: ‘Border Force isn’t immune to this. There have been staffing problems within Border Force for some time. 

‘And for the first time in living memory, Border Force is no longer attracting enough candidates to fill the vacancies that they’ve got.

‘Combined with the fact it takes nearly a year to fully train a Border Force officer, going into not just this summer, this weekend, catastrophically understaffed, with people beginning to travel again, and of course those that went out earlier this week will be coming back by the middle of next week, the school holidays having finished.

”We do anticipate that the queues will move from security based queues going outward to Border Force queues coming back in.’

Speaking about Border Force having to move staff around to manage demand, she said: ‘To a certain extent it also depends on things we can’t control – for example small boat migration. We can’t roster people for that. 

‘That actually draws a lot of resources and staff in the south east so we can process people, particularly when we have a high number of arrivals.

‘So we now have the situation where staff from ports and airports and in the south east are now going to Dover to support staff there, but then staff from Scotland and Northern Ireland are being brought down to cover airports like Heathrow.’ 

However she said Home Office should not cut corners on training and security clearance in a bid to cut tackle the staffing crisis. ‘This is a law enforcement role – you don’t expect your police officer to be incompletely trained, or not security cleared. And certainly we wouldn’t want anything else for Border Force,’ she added. 

It comes as furious holidaymakers claimed Manchester Airport had descended into ‘pure chaos’ today, with queues so long they are even stretching outside the terminal building.

Astonishing pictures appear to show airline passengers queueing in the underfloor car park of the airport outside Terminal 1 early this morning

Astonishing pictures appear to show airline passengers queueing in the underfloor car park of the airport outside Terminal 1 early this morning

Astonishing pictures appear to show airline passengers queueing in the underfloor car park of the airport outside Terminal 1 early this morning

Inside the terminal, pictures show huge queues at check-in and at baggage enquiries - where passengers usually go to report damaged or missing luggage

Inside the terminal, pictures show huge queues at check-in and at baggage enquiries - where passengers usually go to report damaged or missing luggage

Inside the terminal, pictures show huge queues at check-in and at baggage enquiries – where passengers usually go to report damaged or missing luggage

Some passengers say they have had to temporarily abandon their luggage at the airport due to delays, with pictures showing rows of unattended luggage by the conveyor belt

Some passengers say they have had to temporarily abandon their luggage at the airport due to delays, with pictures showing rows of unattended luggage by the conveyor belt

Some passengers say they have had to temporarily abandon their luggage at the airport due to delays, with pictures showing rows of unattended luggage by the conveyor belt

'Shambolic' disruption is also said to have continued at Birmingham Airport this morning. Passengers have reported 90 minute queues for security

'Shambolic' disruption is also said to have continued at Birmingham Airport this morning. Passengers have reported 90 minute queues for security

‘Shambolic’ disruption is also said to have continued at Birmingham Airport this morning. Passengers have reported 90 minute queues for security

Astonishing pictures appear to show airline passengers queueing in the underfloor car park of the airport outside Terminal 1 early this morning.

Inside the terminal, pictures show huge queues at check-in and at baggage enquiries – where passengers usually go to report damaged or missing luggage. 

Brits are warned to now brace for a SUMMER of airport chaos as airlines struggle with low staff numbers

Britons have been told to brace for a summer of airport chaos as airlines struggle with low staff numbers – while emergency plans are drawn up to avoid massive passport queues for the Easter getaway.  

Ministers have been accused of overseeing ‘cripplingly slow’ security checks for new airline staff, with British Airways having to cancel 64 domestic and European flights from Heathrow on Monday alone.

The increase in demand has come as airlines have been hit with staffing shortages, though, with operators citing difficulties in finding recruits, security red tape and Covid absences, The Times reports.   

It comes as border guards are also now gearing up for ‘significant problems’ as millions of holidaymakers head abroad, with fears passport queues could last hours as emergency plans are drawn up for the Easter weekend.  

Good Friday is set to be the busiest day of Easter with 2,430 flights leaving the UK. Flight data specialists Cirium show 9,212 will depart over the bank holiday weekend, 78 per cent of the total in pre-pandemic 2019.

But airlines are concerned that failure to address the current issues will lead to travel chaos extending into the summer, with some families having already endured three-hour queues to get through security at some UK airports.

One industry figure told The Times: ‘The process is cripplingly slow, Aviation was one of the hardest-hit sectors during the pandemic, suffered from a lack of targeted support, and is now facing a summer disrupted by the government being slow in vetting staff.’

Officials have accused ministers of failing to provide adequate resources to meet the increased demand as tens of thousands of potential employees await security clearance – including 12,000 at Heathrow alone.     

Vetting procedures normally take between 14 and 15 weeks, but it is understood to now be taking up to six months to screen new staff.

Lucy Moreton of the Immigration Service Union said backroom staff were being offered bonuses to man desks at Heathrow.

The volunteers, who usually carry out checks on prohibited items, will be pushed to the front lines at airports and ports to prevent chaos. Miss Moreton said border forces were already stretched due to virus absences and the Channel migrant crisis.

‘There’s the potential for significant problems at the tail-end of this week and at the weekend and planning has already started,’ she added. 

‘We’re bringing staff down from Scotland and Northern Ireland to Heathrow.

‘They get expenses and overtime and they’re being offered a cash bonus for each shift they cover at Heathrow. 

‘Some passengers will sail through, but others could be looking at several hours in a queue. It won’t be chaos universally but there will be patches.’

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Some passengers say they have had to temporarily abandon their luggage at the airport due to delays, with pictures showing rows of unattended luggage by the conveyor belt.

‘Shambolic’ disruption is also said to have continued at Birmingham Airport this morning. Passengers have reported 90 minute queues for security. 

Others say they saw passengers plucked out of the queues to be fast-tracked in order to stop them from missing their flights. 

Manchester Airport said queue times for security reached a maximum of 75 minutes earlier this morning.

A spokesperson said the end of the queue had stretched out of the building for a ‘brief period’, but that queues had since decreased.

Meanwhile a spokesperson for Birmingham Airport told MailOnline: ‘Yesterday (Mon, April 11th) another 15,000 customers flew out of Birmingham Airport. Once they cleared boarding card checks, 79% of those customers were through security in under 20 minutes.

‘If anyone is deep in the queue and their departure time is looming, we call them forward, so they don’t miss their flight.’

It comes as Britons have been told to brace for a summer of airport chaos as airlines struggle with low staff numbers – while emergency plans are drawn up to avoid massive passport queues for the Easter getaway.

Ministers have been accused of overseeing ‘cripplingly slow’ security checks for new airline staff, with British Airways having to cancel 64 domestic and European flights from Heathrow on Monday alone.

The increase in demand has come as airlines have been hit with staffing shortages, though, with operators citing difficulties in finding recruits, security red tape and Covid absences, The Times reports.

Meanwhile, border guards are also now gearing up for ‘significant problems’ as millions of holidaymakers head abroad, with fears passport queues could last hours as emergency plans are drawn up for the Easter weekend.

Good Friday is set to be the busiest day of Easter with 2,430 flights leaving the UK. Flight data specialists Cirium show 9,212 will depart over the bank holiday weekend, 78 per cent of the total in pre-pandemic 2019.

But airlines are concerned that failure to address the current issues will lead to travel chaos extending into the summer, with some families having already endured three-hour queues to get through security at some UK airports.

One industry figure told The Times: ‘The process is cripplingly slow, Aviation was one of the hardest-hit sectors during the pandemic, suffered from a lack of targeted support, and is now facing a summer disrupted by the government being slow in vetting staff.’

Meanwhile, Kully Sandhu, the managing director of Aviation Recruitment Network Limited, whose firm recruits for major firms including Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester, told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme he currently had more than 300 live vacancies on his site. 

Asked how long it would take for airports to get the staff they need, he replied: ‘My personal opinion, it is going to take at least the next 12 months for the industry vacancy-wise to settle down.;

Mr Sandhu said Brexit ‘had not helped’ the situation, as recruiters were no longer able to fill vacancies with staff from the EU.

However he said airports should not cut back on their current checks on staff in order to fast-track new employees.

Asked if the security checks on new staff should be reduced or dropped, he said: ‘No, because they work. The industry works to a set of standards, that comes from the Department of Transport and the Civil Aviation Authority.

‘Each airport has the option to scale their checks slightly higher if they want to, each company that operates within the airport can adapt the checks. 

‘But the fundamental basics are the same, five years of background checks to cover an individual’s background history, whether they’ve been employed, in education, any bouts of any kind of benefits, any bouts of period abroad. All these need to be identified.’

Officials have accused ministers of failing to provide adequate resources to meet the increased demand as tens of thousands of potential employees await security clearance – including 12,000 at Heathrow alone.

Vetting procedures normally take between 14 and 15 weeks, but it is understood to now be taking up to six months to screen new staff. 

Some travel firms cut huge numbers of workers in the pandemic and are racing to find staff to cope with soaring demand. But the drive is being hampered by delays in carrying out security and counter-terror checks.  

Martin Chalk, chief of the pilots’ union Balpa, said: ‘There will be problems into the summer. To be working in an airport you need an airside pass, which needs a criminal records and counter-terror check, which are taking months. The challenge won’t be answered quickly.’ 

A senior aviation source said: ‘It’s taking much longer to get the background checks done – two to three times as long – and it was already taking as long as 14 to 15 weeks.’ 

Travel operators are now at their busiest since the start of the pandemic. Nearly 4.2million passengers passed through Heathrow last month, only 35 per cent down on the 6.5million of March 2019. 

Good Friday is set to be the busiest day of Easter with 2,430 flights leaving the UK. Flight data specialists Cirium show 9,212 will depart over the bank holiday weekend, 78 per cent of the total in pre-pandemic 2019. 

Some passengers reported waiting up to 90 minutes to get through check-in and security at Manchester Airport yesterday. And dozens of families have vented their anger at BA over baggage problems. 

Passengers have been forced to leave airports without their belongings, in some cases waiting five days for them to be forwarded on.

Rory Boland of Which? Travel said: ‘Woefully understaffed airlines have booked far more flights than they can operate this Easter, with passengers of BA and EasyJet seeming to be the worst affected.’ 

Pictured: Passengers queue at a very busy Heathrow Terminal 2 today as people head on Easter getaways

Pictured: Passengers queue at a very busy Heathrow Terminal 2 today as people head on Easter getaways

Pictured: Passengers queue at a very busy Heathrow Terminal 2 today as people head on Easter getaways 

Pictured: Despite pleas from airport bosses to arrive three hours before flights, large queues are seen at the airport check-in at Manchester Airport on Saturday April 9

Pictured: Despite pleas from airport bosses to arrive three hours before flights, large queues are seen at the airport check-in at Manchester Airport on Saturday April 9

Pictured: Despite pleas from airport bosses to arrive three hours before flights, large queues are seen at the airport check-in at Manchester Airport on Saturday April 9

Pictured: People wait for their baggage at Gatwick today as airports remain busy

Pictured: People wait for their baggage at Gatwick today as airports remain busy

Pictured: People wait for their baggage at Gatwick today as airports remain busy 

A Home Office spokesman said: ‘We are working closely with all UK ports and airports to ensure passengers have the smoothest possible journey, and we will continue to deploy our staff flexibly.’ 

To add to travellers’ woes, the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association yesterday put ministers on notice that it was ready to bring the railways to a halt with a national strike. 

The union, which represents ticket office and control room workers, wants guarantees that firms will not make any compulsory redundancies this year and salaries will match inflation.

Severe disruption on roads leading to cross-Channel services in Kent continued yesterday. 

  • Are you stuck in the airport chaos? Let me know about your experience: [email protected] 

RAC warns Easter weekend getaway will be the busiest in EIGHT years with 21.5 million journeys planned – as it urges drivers to travel AFTER 7.30pm 

Motorists face a week of travel chaos with the Easter weekend getaway predicted to be the busiest in eight years.

The RAC warned of motorway gridlocks as a record 21.5 million drivers prepare to take to the roads ahead of the four-day weekend, the most since the organisation began tracking motorists’ Easter plans in 2014. 

It also urged drivers to try and and travel after 7.30pm to avoid congestion.  

RAC research showed Good Friday is set to be the busiest, with 4.62 million trips planned, followed by Easter Monday, when just under 4 million drivers are expected to be out and about.

A further 7.2 million will travel on Saturday and Sunday, with another 5.6 million not yet decided on which day they will set off.   

Inrix, the traffic information supplier, highlighted several likely congestion hotspots. 

The congestion hotspots include: The M6 north between Junction 26 (Orrell Interchange, Greater Manchester) and Junction 36 (the Lake District), The M25 clockwise from Junction 8 (Reigate Hill Interchange, Surrey) to Junction 16 (Denham Interchange, Buckinghamshire) and The A303 near Stonehenge, Wiltshire.

Motorists wanting to avoid as much congestion as possible are advised to start their journeys before 9am or delay their journeys until after 7.30pm.  

More than 500 engineering works are taking place amid strikes on vast swathes of northern rail routes. It will create mayhem for the thousands of football fans travelling to London for the FA Cup semi-finals at Wembley.

It comes as severe disruption on roads in Kent leading to cross-Channel services looks set to continue for days.

The bottlenecks have been caused by soaring numbers of drivers looking to reach the Continent for Easter getaways and the suspension of P&O Ferries services. 

P&O Ferries ships will not sail from Dover to Calais until at least Thursday, with rival carriers struggling to soak up the extra demand.

Europe-bound motorists have reported being stuck in traffic for six hours on Kent roads, and a 20-mile stretch of the M20 has been closed to store more than 4,000 lorries.

To make matters worse, getaways will be the most expensive on record due to sky-high fuel prices. 

Latest Government figures show the average cost of a litre of petrol at UK forecourts on April 4 was 161.9p, with diesel at 176.0p.

There could also be diesel or petrol shortages due to protesting eco-warriors blocking off fuel terminals, slowing down deliveries.

RAC traffic spokesman Rod Dennis said: ‘After two years of relatively quiet Easter bank holidays on the roads, our research suggests a return to traffic levels that are much more typical of this time of year.

‘It’s very possible this weekend could turn out to be one of the busiest for leisure journeys for many years.

‘Add in the impact of disruption on the rail network and one of the biggest fixtures of the sporting calendar taking place this weekend, and you have all the ingredients needed for problems on the roads.

‘Traffic volumes will likely be even higher if some warm spring sunshine makes an appearance.’

Mr Dennis urged drivers to make sure vehicles are prepared for getaway trips. Pictured: Traffic beginning to build up on April 8. Drivers have been warned to expect long delays this Easter weekend

Mr Dennis urged drivers to make sure vehicles are prepared for getaway trips. Pictured: Traffic beginning to build up on April 8. Drivers have been warned to expect long delays this Easter weekend

Mr Dennis urged drivers to make sure vehicles are prepared for getaway trips. Pictured: Traffic beginning to build up on April 8. Drivers have been warned to expect long delays this Easter weekend 

Mr Dennis urged drivers to make sure vehicles are prepared for getaway trips.

‘This is even more important for anyone travelling longer distances than they have for several months,’ he said.

‘A breakdown is much less likely if a car’s oil and coolant levels, as well as tyre pressure and tread depth, have all been checked before setting out.’   

 

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Source: Daily Mail

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