A minister has apologised to those who have experienced delays at the UK’s airports over the weekend.
People have complained of “total chaos” at airports as the summer holidays began for millions.
Two hour-long queues to show COVID-19 documentation before being allowed airside were reported at Heathrow on Saturday, while there were complaints of a lack of staff at Stansted Airport causing “chaotic scenes”.
Airports and airlines were expecting their busiest weekend of the year, with hundreds more flights and thousands more passengers than at any time during the COVID pandemic.
Speaking to Times Radio, crime and policing minister Kit Malthouse apologised for the delays and suggested that airline staff could be among those made exempt from having to isolate if identified as a close contact of someone who tests positive for coronavirus.
“I know Border Force are one of the frontline services that will be able to access more of this test and release,” he said.
“And I think at Heathrow yesterday we had a technical issue with the e-gates where they went down for 90 minutes or so. That caused a problem and I’m very sorry about that, and I’m sorry for the people that were inconvenienced.
“Hopefully Border Force will be relieved of some of the aspects of the pingdemic.”
Asked if airline staff could be made exempt as well, he said: “Yes, we would be in conversation with employers.”
Heathrow was expecting to welcome about 128,000 passengers over this weekend, although that is down from pre-pandemic daily volumes of around 230,000 to 260,000 in July 2019.
Chief executive John Holland-Kaye said more staff would be deployed to make sure passengers had a “smooth journey”.
However, Fiona Brett, a violinist travelling to Frankfurt with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, said she had to queue for two hours at Heathrow on Saturday to show her COVID vaccination certificate to staff at check-in, despite already checking in online.
Ms Brett, from Watlington, Oxfordshire, said the “total chaos” meant her 9.30am flight was delayed.
“They were constantly calling people out of the queue for the next flight that was closing,” she said.
“Actually it would have been better to turn up at 8.30 and get called from the back of the queue to the front – total chaos.
“I believe the queues were caused not by too many people but by the airlines having to do all the extra checks before properly checking in.”
Other passengers vented their frustrations via social media about the queues at Stansted Airport, with one labelling the scenes “chaotic”.
Manchester Airports Group said it was expecting 958 flights at Manchester Airport from Friday to Monday, 224 at East Midlands Airport and 1,330 at Stansted.
This is an increase from the same weekend last year, when 632, 177 and 735 flights respectively took off.
But it is still significantly fewer than over the same period in 2019 – 2,512, 503 and 2,139 respectively.
Gatwick Airport was expecting to see around 250 to 260 flights and between 25,000 and 27,000 passengers a day over this weekend, up from a low of just 15 flights a day at one point in the pandemic.
Budget airline easyJet said it was expecting to transport some 135,000 passengers from the UK this weekend across more than 80 routes to a variety of green and amber-list destinations in Europe.
A total of 251 flights were due to take-off, flying to destinations including Malta, Madeira, Malaga in Spain, Faro and Lisbon in Portugal, and Corfu and Athens in Greece.
Tui said it had almost double the numbers of passengers setting off this weekend compared to last, with the Balearic islands and Greece the “clear favourites” for Britons jetting off for some sun.
Jet2 had 170 flights going to more than 40 destinations, up from around 70 flights to six places last weekend.
A traffic light system for international travel has been in operation since May, with destinations given a green, amber or red designation.
People returning from green list countries do not have to quarantine when they get back, but only a handful of European tourist hotspots are in this tier.
Travellers coming back from amber list countries have to isolate upon their return, but there is an exemption for those who are fully vaccinated as well as under 18s.
Spain, Italy and Greece are on the amber list.