Heathrow bedlam blamed on 'nightmare' 12-hour shifts

EXCLUSIVE: Heathrow bedlam is blamed on ‘nightmare’ new rota ‘forcing border staff to work extended 12-hour shifts’ as insiders say airport chaos is only going to get WORSE

  • Since May, there have been huge queues at Heathrow, with some passengers reporting three-hour waits
  • Earlier this month, Home Office finally admitted situation was ‘unacceptable’ when pregnant woman fainted
  • Speaking to MailOnline, Border Force official said shifts were extended to beyond 12 hours in August
  • He called the rota situation a ‘nightmare’ and said the changes are ‘highly unpopular’ amongst staff’ 

The recent chaos at Britain’s borders has been driven by ‘nightmare’ changes to guards’ rotas which has forced them to work 12-hour shifts, MailOnline can reveal.

Since at least May, there have been huge queues at Heathrow Airport, with some passengers reporting three-hour waits at passport gates.

Earlier this month, the Home Office finally admitted the situation was ‘unacceptable’ when a pregnant woman fainted while in a queue of people waiting to have their documents checked.

An IT failure at the airport on Friday caused further chaos, with thousands forced to wait in queues of up to three hours.

Now, speaking exclusively to MailOnline, a Border Force official has suggested that the problems are at least partly caused by changes to the staff rota which saw shifts extended by two hours in August.

Officers had already had their shift lengths increased to 10 hours and 25 minutes but this was further extended to just over 12 hours, meaning that more staff have suffered from exhaustion and called in sick as a result.

The unnamed staff member claimed: ‘The rotas are a nightmare. They made all officers extend their shifts by two hours. So an already long 10.25 hour shift became 12.25 hours.

‘Deputy director at Heathrow Raj Johal introduced these new rosters. They are highly unpopular amongst the staff, higher officers, senior officers and including the rostering and resource management department.’

He also claimed that more than 20 per cent of staff were off sick in August, whereas on a normal day the absence rate is around half that. He added: ‘It’s only going to get worse’.

The recent chaos at Britain’s borders has been driven by ‘nightmare’ changes to guards’ rotas which has forced them to work 12-hour shifts, MailOnline can reveal. Since at least May, there have been huge queues at Heathrow Airport, with some passengers reporting three-hour waits at passport gates. Above: Queues at Heathrow earlier this month

Huge queues at Heathrow were first reported on May 17, when passengers flying into the UK faced ‘bedlam’ at passport gates

Heathrow’s summer of queuing chaos: So when WILL the government get a grip? 

May 17 – Passengers flying into the UK faced ‘bedlam’ at the border with some facing a three hour wait at the Heathrow passport gates. Travellers told MailOnline how they were ‘terrified of catching Covid’ while being crammed into the airport’s border hall this morning.

July 12 – Passengers said they had ‘never seen anything like’ the queues at Heathrow Terminal 5 as officials blamed the scenes on staff having to self-isolate. A passenger said: ‘Total chaos at security at Heathrow airport T5 this morning. Never seen anything like it.’ 

July 20 – 90-minute queues were seen at arrivals after the government failed to update Passenger Locator Forms ahead of its ‘Freedom Day’ rule changes – resulting in double-jabbed Britons being rejected at e-gates.  

August 2 – Queues of passengers stretched the entire length of Terminal 5. Officials again blamed staff having to self-isolate. A spokesman quoted figures showing that one in four Border Force guards were reported to be off sick with Covid or self-isolating. 

29 – Three-hour waits were reported at passport control. A day later the Home Office risked fury as it said passengers ‘need to accept’ the risk of delays at peak times. 

30 – One passenger describes the immigration process in Terminal 2 as ‘incompetent and ridiculous’, adding that he was forced to wait for more than five hours with ‘no water, no bathroom’

31 – One traveller wrote on Twitter that a queue for families with children had lasted three hours.

September 1-4 –  Pictures and video show long snaking lines of travellers packed closely together with no social distancing, as some aired themselves with leaflets in an attempt to stay cool. There are reports of pregnant women and elderly people being forced to stand for hours, with no shuttle made available, and of a male passenger fainting in the queue.

September 7 – More long queues are seen, prompting the boss of British Airway to say the travel rules are ‘not fit for purpose’.

September 24 – Documentary maker Louis Theroux is among thousands of passengers caught up in travel chaos at Heathrow after an IT failure.   

A spokesman for the Immigration Services Union backed up the staff member’s claims, saying that a range of rostering issues during the Covid-19 pandemic has created ‘chaos for staff and caused widespread resentment’.

MailOnline has approached the Home Office for comment.  

Huge queues at Heathrow were first reported on May 17, when passengers flying into the UK faced ‘bedlam’ at passport gates.

In July, passengers said they had ‘never seen anything like’ the queues at Heathrow Terminal 5 as officials blamed the scenes on staff having to self-isolate.

Similar scenes in August were also blamed on staff shortages caused by Covid-19.

Further pictures and video from earlier this month showed long snaking lines of travellers packed closely together with no social distancing.

One holidaymaker told how he saw a pregnant woman pass out after a queue only ‘moved about five feet’ in the space of around 45 minutes.

The Border Force official also told MailOnline that newer staff are having to do all night shifts because older staff ‘on better terms and conditions are no longer allowed to do them’.

This means that there are fewer staff on busier day shifts.

The official added: ‘These new rosters started on 22nd August. A week before the busiest period at Heathrow.’

He also claimed that some officers are unable to even ‘stamp passports’ and are instead ‘sat in back offices’.

The number of officers on ‘restricted duties’ due to health problems is also on the rise, he added.

Speaking to MailOnline, the ISU said the problems are further compounded by a ‘perfect storm’ of a lack of funding and the fact that there are not enough new recruits.

‘There has been some limited recruitment into Heathrow in recent months but it has barely scratched the surface of the chronic underfunding at Heathrow,’ they said.

‘Plus it takes 12 months to train a border officer and face to face training has been impacted by the pandemic.

‘Staff are, understandably, voting with their feet and leaving the business; either to more supportive roles elsewhere or all together. The cumulative impact has been an almost perfect storm.’

The delays on Friday were caused by what a Heathrow spokesperson said was a ‘systems failure’ impacting the airport’s e-gates. 

Documentary maker Louis Theroux was among the thousands of passengers caught up in the travel chaos. 

Disgruntled passengers took to social media to share their frustration with one claiming queues for immigration checks were ‘one kilometer’ long and others slamming the ‘absolute farce.’

Travel industry experts have repeatedly warned the chaotic scenes seen in the wake of the country reopening are blighting the UK’s global reputation, while running the risk of a spike in Covid cases – further jeopardising the already crisis-hit tourism sector. 

Tory MPs demanded answers from the head of Border Force over the Heathrow queuing scandal seen in recent months but Paul Lincoln, the agency’s director general, has not commented publicly on the issue in recent weeks. 

Border Force chief Paul Lincoln, a career civil servant who has also served in the Ministry of Defence and Cabinet Office, had his salary bumped up from £130,000-£135,000 to between £135,000 and £140,000 in the last financial year, accounts show.

He has overseen a summer of Heathrow border chaos dating back to at least May, when some passengers reported three-hour waits at passport gates.

In July, it was announced he will soon leave his current role, a month after being made an OBE for services to border security.

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan-Smith and James Gray, MP for North Wiltshire, have called on senior officials including Mr Lincoln to explain what is causing the ‘unacceptable’ queues. 

Due to the extensive queues, masses of luggage were grouped together for people to sift through once they made it through the border control as the baggage handlers tried to keep up with the constant stream of inbound flights to Heathrow

What are the new travel rules from October 4 and how do they compare to the current traffic light system? 

As of October 4, the Government’s travel traffic light system is being replaced with a simplified two-tier ‘go/no-go’ scheme. 

There will be a ‘red list’ of banned countries and a ‘rest of the world’ list for everywhere else. 

Travel from the ‘rest of the world’ if you are fully vaccinated

Travellers must book and pay for a day two coronavirus test to be taken after arriving back in England.

They do not need to take a pre-departure test before coming back to the country or take a day eight test. There is no quarantine requirement – assuming the day two test is negative.

Travel from the ‘rest of the world’ if you are not fully vaccinated

Travellers must take a pre-departure coronavirus test before coming back to England. 

They must also book and pay for a day two and day eight test. 

After arriving in England they must quarantine at home for 10 days.

Travel from red list countries

Normal travel from these countries remains banned and only UK nationals can return from them.

Travellers must take a pre-departure test. They must also book and pay for a Government-backed quarantine hotel package.

The stay in hotel quarantine will cost more than £2,000 and will involve two tests.

The ‘red list’ rules apply regardless of vaccination status. 

WHAT IS CURRENTLY IN PLACE? 

RED: Travel to the UK from a red list country is banned for non-UK nationals. Britons returning to the UK must take a pre-departure test and book a ten-day stay in hotel quarantine including tests at a cost of £1,750. Countries include Brazil, Turkey, Bangladesh and South Africa.

AMBER: A pre-departure test is required before heading to Britain while non-vaccinated people have to quarantine for ten days at home and book tests on day two and day 8. They can also pay for a day 5 test under the ‘test to release’ scheme. The fully-vaccinated do not have to isolate but they do have to book a day 2 test.  Countries include Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece. 

GREEN WATCHLIST: This is a category for countries which are at risk of losing their green status (see below). Countries include Barbados, Croatia and Israel.

GREEN: Returning travellers must take a pre-departure test and book a day two test as well. Quarantine is not required for anyone unless the test is positive. Countries include Bulgaria, Canada , Iceland and Malta.

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