Chaotic scenes have been reported at UK airports with passengers arriving as much as eight hours before departure.
Concerns over crowding in terminals, with claims that some were failing to wear facemasks or adhere to social distancing measures, come ahead of a busy weekend for holiday flights as schools in most of the UK break up for the summer.
Passengers at Heathrow were packed in “like sardines” while long queues developed at Gatwick and Manchester airport, according to The Times.
Heathrow officials told the newspaper that problems were exacerbated by people turning up far too early for flights, leading to crowds gathering in departure halls.
Some passengers were reportedly turning up seven or eight hours before take-off, often because of concerns that it will take longer to get through check-in and security due to Covid-safety rules.
The airport has urged passengers to arrive as normal – two hours before a European flight and three for long-haul journeys – to prevent crowding.
The sudden spike rise in passengers comes after airports have been operating at less than 5% of normal numbers since coronavirus lockdown started in March.
One person wrote on Twitter: “Heathrow is a zoo. No social distancing. Why aren’t there 2m floor markings and proper queue managers ensuring passengers stay apart?”
Jon Noble, a sports journalist, complained of “packed queues” at the passport control desk at Terminal 5, which is partly the responsibility of Border Force officers.
He told the Evening Standard: “It was a pretty shocking lack of effort from Heathrow in sorting out their queueing system. Looks like [Heathrow] has made zero effort for social distancing. What a disgrace.”
Warnings of a “horrendous queue for departures” at Gatwick came from one passenger on Twitter, while another criticised “crowded and disorganised” scenes at Manchester.
Teacher Gillian Hatt, told the Manchester Evening News: “They kept sending messages over the loud speaker about social distancing but didn’t provide the means for passengers to do that because of the amount of areas blocked off. There were only about seven flights leaving the terminal. What’s it going to be like when there are more?”
A Heathrow spokesman said: “We are aware that some passengers are arriving several hours in advance of their flights which is not necessary and is causing some congestion issues.
“To prevent this, passengers are advised to arrive no earlier than two hours before a short-haul flight and three hours for long-haul journeys.
“Our teams are on hand to support where possible, but we recognise that there are points in the journey where social distancing is not always possible. That is why face coverings are mandatory in terminals, as they help to reduce the risk of transmission at the airport.”
Meanwhile, Heathrow revealed new summer short-haul destinations, including new Britishb Airways’ routes to Dubrovnik, Genoa and Verona, as airlines consolidate operations at the London hub.
Czech Airlines is a new carrier to the airport, running flights to Prague.
Manchester airport said that the “government has been clear that social distancing will not always be possible within airports, as is the case with all forms of public transport.
“In recognition of that, a wide range of additional safety measures have been introduced at Manchester airport, in line with official guidance and following a series of successful trials.
“These include a requirement to wear face coverings across our site, asking only travelling passengers to enter the terminals, an enhanced cleaning regime and the installation of protective screens in key locations.”