The boss of the UK’s second largest tour operator says the Home Office must ramp up resources to solve the “unacceptable” waits at immigration to avoid “uproar” this summer.
Jet2holidays chief executive Steve Heapy said “it didn’t help” having Border Force director general Paul Lincoln on the update with transport secretary Grant Shapps on Friday.
Heapy said: “He [Lincoln] basically said, ‘you can go to some places, but it’s going to be an absolute nightmare’.
“I was stunned”, he told a Travel Weekly webcast, calling the situation “giving with one hand and taking away the other”.
He said: “If that was a private company, basically saying ‘this year is going to be a nightmare, the service level is going to be really bad and everyone’s going to be massively let down’, you would have MPs from all persuasions demanding heads on spikes, compensation, people being sacked.
“You just had this guy saying ‘sorry guys, it’s going to be a nightmare. Live with it’. I think it’s absolutely disgraceful. I don’t think it’s good enough at all.”
Lincoln told the briefing that queuing times at arrivals would be 14 to 15 times longer than usual this summer, noting: “It takes five to 10 minutes to complete all the necessary checks compared to 25 seconds before, even with the most compliant passengers.”
Heapy said the anticipated queues were “unacceptable”.
He added: “Border Force has had the luxury not being a private company, of not having to furlough people, not having to give wage cuts, not losing people.
“They’re fully staffed and fully paid. They should be able to move resources around and handle the queues.”
He predicted “uproar” if long queues remain at airports throughout the summer for returning holidaymakers.
Heapy said “we have to work with the government and the Home Office to get this fixed” from the “low bar” of service level “they have set”.
The PC Agency’s Paul Charles said the Home Office, which manages Border Force, has “not really done themselves any favours in how it has treated the travel sector” and “the resourcing has not been forthcoming” because “the home secretary (Priti Patel) is not exactly a fan of people travelling”.
He reported a “seamless” transition through Gatwick on return from the WTTC conference in Mexico recently but said “it’s a different story” at Heathrow which has more flights on and is manually checking all arrivals.
“There is no excuse for not enabling the e-gates to come back into action as our airports,” he said. “There’s no excuse for moving away from manual processing, to automatic processing, because they knew that more people would be traveling from May 17 onwards under their own roadmap.
“So for them to turn around and say it might be the autumn before they fix this problem is unacceptable. It’s bad planning. There are so many resources in government. They don’t know what to do with half of them.
“It’s unacceptable for them to turn around and say they don’t have enough resources. And this is the problem.”
Charles suggested “they want long queues because it will put people off traveling” and urged the sector to lobby both the Department for Transport and the Home Office to improve the process.
Paul Cleary, chief executive of Caribtours, said Border Force had “no place” at Friday’s Downing Street briefing, and suggested: “They’re just trying to slam the brakes on travel as long as possible”.
He added: “He turns up dressed like Ted Hastings from Line of Duty with miserable information to put us off travel. All of this is about a narrative to delay travel.”