Passengers traveling through London’s Heathrow Airport were forced to wait up to five hours this morning after security staff failed to show up. Over 100 staff members have been told to isolate by the NHS app. According to online reports, queues at Terminal 5 mainly affected passengers flying with British Airways, American Airlines, Qatar Airways, and Iberia.

Passengers traveling through Heathrow Airport, Terminal 5 had queues of up to five hours this morning. Photo: Heathrow Airport

Five-hour queues

Tweets began surfacing online this morning on Heathrow’s Terminal 5, packed with people. Although the airport first responded by calling the issues “longer than usual queues,” it seems that the queues are considerably longer than usual. One passenger said they waited five hours. Several passengers have complained about missing flights and delayed flights thanks to long lines.

According to a statement from the airport, the reason for the extra-long waiting times is down to a COVID outbreak among airport staff members. A spokesperson for the airport confirmed,

“Earlier today, we experienced some passenger congestion in Terminal 5 departures, due to colleagues being instructed to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace. We have activated additional team members to assist passengers with their journeys, and the operation has now returned to normal. We apologise to our passengers for any inconvenience caused.”

Reportedly, airport staff are telling passengers that over 120 staff, including security and check-in staff, have been told to self-isolate, leaving the airport short-staffed. It seems as though all staff received the notice to isolate around the same time. Some passengers are queueing for over an hour to check-in bags. Others are taking as long as five hours to pass through security.

Protecting staff means queues may continue

Unfortunately, although the app might be protecting staff members, the number of people queueing at the airport this morning made social distancing impossible. Photos do show that most people were wearing masks. However, the airport reminded passengers that masks are still mandatory to help keep passengers safe.

The confusion comes just one week after the airport announced it was hoping to speed up procedures. Last week Heathrow announced new fast-track lanes, which they clearly needed today. The new speedy lanes will allow vaccinated people to upload proof before flying and bypass usual border checks.

The trail fast-track lanes are available on flights to Athens, Los Angeles, Montego Bay, and New York. Currently, the airport is partnering with British Airways and Virgin Atlantic to trial the program. If successful, the option will become available on more flights. However, for fast-track and regular lanes to work at all, the airport needs staff members.

With the UK border restrictions set to loosen on July 19th, more travelers will be passing through Heathrow. With over 100 staff members in isolation for 10 days, queues may increase as pressure on remaining staff increases. The airport seems to have things under control for now, but things could get messy if more staff need to self-isolate.

What do you think of the situation? Are you traveling through Heathrow soon? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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