Queues at airports after Border Force endures ‘systems failure’ of e-passport gates

Home Office claims problem was quickly fixed
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By Sam Trendall

28 Sep 2021

Passengers arriving in the UK on Friday reported being stuck in massive queues to enter the country after an IT “systems failure” impacted electronic passport gates operated by Border Force.

The issue is understood to have disabled e-passport gates at airports and other entry points around the country for several hours from the late morning until mid-afternoon.

Shortly before midday, Edinburgh Airport tweeted to say: “Border Force colleagues are working to rectify an IT issue which is resulting in delays for arriving passengers [who] will still be able to pass through the border, but this will take a little longer than usual while the issue is resolved.”

About 45 minutes later the airport indicated that officials had been deployed to conduct manual checks on travel documents.

“The UK Border Force IT issue is nationwide and UKBF teams are working to resolve this,” the airport said. “All available UKBF staff are in the arrivals hall to carry out necessary checks and allow passengers to pass through the border as quickly as possible.”

An hour later, Heathrow Airport also tweeted to acknowledge the problem.

“We’re aware of a systems failure impacting the e-gates, which are staffed and operated by Border Force,” it said. “This issue is impacting a number of ports of entry and is not an isolated issue at Heathrow. Our teams are working with Border Force to find a solution as quickly as possible.”

Meanwhile, passengers arriving at UK airports reported massive queues and long delays in proceeding through immigration controls.

This included the journalist Louis Theroux, who tweeted a picture of a scene he described as “human logjam” at Heathrow Terminal 5.

Tweets sent by the London airport at 3.20pm indicated that the problem had been solved, and the electronic gates were once again operational.

“Earlier today, a systems failure impacted the e-gates, which are staffed and operated by Border Force,” Heathrow said. “This issue, which impacted a number of ports of entry, has since been resolved and the e-gates at Heathrow are back up and running again. Our teams remain on hand and are working with Border Force to monitor the situation, and to get passengers on their way as quickly as possible.”

Edinburgh Airport and other ports had already indicated that they were no longer experiencing any problems, while the Home Office put out the following statement: “The issue was quickly identified and has now been resolved.”

According to the government, there are 270 e-passport gates in operation across 15 air and rail ports around the UK.

The gates can be used to by travellers with a biometric passport issued by the UK or any country in the European Economic Area, as well as Switzerland, the US, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, and South Korea. The gates are also open to those that have signed up the UK’s Registered Traveller service.

The gates allow automated checking of documents and immigration status by scanning both biometric chips in passports and passengers’ faces.

Sam Trendall is the editor of CSW's sister title PublicTechnology, where a version of this story furst appeared.

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