Passengers at border arrival points across the UK, including Heathrow airport, faced hours-long queues at passport control on Friday after a system controlling automated gates failed.
People caught in the delays tweeted pictures of lengthy queues following the issue, which airports said was “nationwide” and which the Home Office said had resulted from a technical failure involving automated eGates at “a number of ports”.
“The issue was quickly identified and has now been resolved,” said the Home Office, which through Border Force is responsible for passport checks and operating of the eGates.
The automated gates are critical to the functioning of the UK’s busiest border posts because they process large numbers of travellers more quickly than Border Force officials can do manually.
Friday’s delays were the latest of several incidents over the past 18 months when passport check delays have led to waits of hours at UK borders.
There were reports in August of queues lasting hours at Heathrow, the UK’s busiest airport, after large numbers of Border Force officers were told to self-isolate after coming into contact with people infected with Covid-19.
Immigration staff have also had to respond to a series of changes to border controls, including the ending of free movement between the UK and EU following the end of the Brexit transition period in December and the enforcement of coronavirus travel restrictions.
Louis Theroux, the documentary film-maker, on Friday tweeted a picture of himself at the end of a lengthy queue at Heathrow airport’s Terminal 5, describing it as a “human logjam”.
One passenger, David Mitchell, tweeted that it had taken him four hours to leave Heathrow as a result of the problem. Another Twitter user, Sarah Rushbrooke, tweeted a picture of a lengthy queue at Manchester airport and called the delay “not acceptable”.
The system failure comes as passenger numbers through UK airports have been increasing following the relaxation of most Covid travel rules for fully vaccinated people.
As well as Heathrow and Manchester, Edinburgh airport tweeted that Border Force was working to resolve an “IT issue” that was resulting in delays for arriving passengers.
“Passengers will still be able to pass through the border but this will take a little longer than usual while the issue is resolved,” Edinburgh airport wrote.
The Home Office was unable to say how many ports of entry were affected and did not immediately explain the reason for the failure of the gates.
Manchester Airports Group, owner of East Midlands airport and Stansted as well as Manchester airport, said all of its facilities had experienced problems “for a short period”.
“We will continue to support [Border Force] as they clear the backlog of passengers,” the operator said.