Passport e-gates failure cause chaos at UK airports

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Passport e-gates across key UK airports experienced a widespread malfunction, triggering chaotic scenes as travellers faced lengthy queues and manual checks by border officers.

The nationwide breakdown occurred on Tuesday evening, exacerbating frustrations just days after a similar incident, prompting scrutiny of the Home Office’s handling of the technology’s reliability.

Passengers returning from extended bank holiday getaways found themselves stranded in queues at border control, with reports indicating e-gate failures around 8 pm on Tuesday.

Heathrow Airport, the nation’s busiest hub, bore the brunt of the disruption, with thousands enduring delays of up to two hours. Similar scenes unfolded at Stansted, Manchester, and Edinburgh airports, while Gatwick reported delays of up to 90 minutes.

An airport spokesperson acknowledged the issue, stating, “Border Force is currently facing a nationwide challenge affecting passenger processing at the border. Our teams are assisting with contingency plans to swiftly resolve the problem and provide support to affected passengers. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.”

The malfunction affected over 270 e-gates across 15 airports and train stations, with the cause remaining unclear.

Last month’s failure on April 25 prompted an apology from the Home Office, citing a “technical issue” as the cause.

E-gates typically handle the bulk of passenger arrivals, including minors aged ten and above, but their reliability has been called into question following recurrent breakdowns.

Originally limited to British and EU arrivals, their scope expanded to include travellers from various countries. However, incidents of system failure have persisted, including a collapse during the 2023 late May bank holiday weekend and multiple technical glitches in 2021.

In January, plans for an “intelligent border” were revealed, featuring advanced facial recognition technology. Phil Douglas, Director-General of Border Force, highlighted the aim to align Britain’s border security with international standards.

Trials of the new technology are slated to commence later this year, paving the way for a comprehensive procurement process for upgraded e-gates.

A Home Office spokesperson addressed the recent malfunction, stating, “We are aware of a technical issue affecting e-gates across the country. We are working closely with Border Force and affected airports to resolve the issue promptly and extend our apologies to all passengers inconvenienced by the disruption.”