Heathrow braces for days of chaos amid staff shortages, IT issues and cancellations

UK travellers are currently experiencing chaos as Heathrow continues to be hit by a combination of IT issues, Covid-induced staff shortages and flight cancellations. 

For the last few days, travellers complained on Twitter about being stuck in hour-long queues at terminals 2 and 5 as a result of IT issues, especially at security e-gates.

Scottish athlete Kirsty Law posted a video this morning showing hundreds of people queuing while yesterday another passenger reported waiting more than 1.5 hours at security.

“Heathrow Terminal 2 is just shambles,” he said. “3.5 hours to check in a single suitcase which then doesn’t arrive! On our return flight, doors are closed to we had to wait 20 minutes, then 1.5 hours in immigration! Such a joke.”

The Home Office confirmed this morning there had been a “technical issue” with the checkpoints, but said it had since been resolved.

Heathrow apologised to customers but explained it couldn’t estimate waiting times as terminals were becoming more congested.

“Queue times have been longer as passenger numbers have increased,” the airport said. “We do not have information of how long it takes to pass security, as this can change daily

Passengers also experienced never-ending queues at check in, with one Twitter user saying she got in line at 8.05am and didn’t get through for more than an hour.

“To make matters worse, British Airways customers at Heathrow suffered delays after the airline was forced to cancel 115 flights, even though only five were last-minute cancellations caused by Covid-related shortages, City A.M. reported.

The total number included flights that were cancelled after the airline decided to reduce its schedule until the end of May, as well as routes – such as Asia – suspended for several months due to the pandemic. 

“Aviation has been one of the industries worst hit by the pandemic, and airlines and airports are experiencing the same issues rebuilding their operations while managing the continuing impact of Covid,” BA said. 

BA – who had experienced delays at Heathrow last Wednesday because of IT issues at terminal 5 – was not the only airline affected by travel disruptions ahead of Easter. 

Over the weekend EasyJet axed more than 200 flights following high levels of Covid among employees. 

The airline, who pulled today 62 flights leaving thousands stranded abroad, said it was taking action to mitigate the impact on passengers. 

But according to Francesco Ragni, aviation lecturer at Buckinghamshire New University, what is happening across the industry is part of a broader issue. 

“This is not a temporary problem due to few people sick,” he told City A.M. “It’s a serious structural issue of staff shortage that the industry is facing, as traffic goes back to normality.”

“Airports are complex and demanding work environments, where staff have often to work unsocial hours, and there are security checks to be done before employment.

“Many employees that were let go during the pandemic have found other jobs and might be reluctant to go back, while the process of hiring new people takes time.”

Aviation is not the only sector that witnessed serious disruption today as Eurostar services were held up because of Channel chaos while ferry passengers at Dover reported issues for the fourth consecutive day.