The U.K.’s Airport Covid Screening May Be Spreading The Virus With 7 Hour Indoor Waits

Wait times at London Heathrow immigration hit 7 hours on Monday and a passenger collapsed. An airport executive told U.K. parliament that “police were being called to deal with tensions that flare up as people queue for hours at a time.”

We’re starting to see disruption in some of the arriving passengers…If you’re made to queue for two or three hours, it’s not something you want to do and we’re even having to involve the police service to help us.”

Six weeks ago London Heathrow immigration lines hit 7 hours long so this isn’t the first time we’ve seen it, and it shouldn’t have been a surprise. The U.K. should have been ready for this.

At the start of the pandemic the U.S. limited international flights to certain hubs, cramming more passengers into limited space and the government wasn’t prepared to handle its own policy. So really there was a year’s advance warning about how ostensibly Covid precaution policies can cram people together in an indoor congregant setting and create potential superspreader events.

Manual U.K. Covid processing – checking of forms and tests and evidence of booked future tests – is taking so much time that it’s potentially increasing the spread of the virus.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I kind of like the spokesman’s response that this can be avoid if people would stop non-essential travel. He has a point.

  2. No sht. 99% of all these interventions and government sanctioned protocols do NOTHING to stop the spread, in fact most probably make it worse.

  3. Since Covid-19 started, I have seen very little common sense from governments or it’s citizens. My guesstimate is that less than 30% of US citizens use common sense to make decisions. Instead decisions are made based upon profit, emotion, selfishness, political ideology, or hatred.

  4. I think this system could end up being more simple and efficient than the alternatives.

    After cramming thousands of people into one room for seven hours, you can forget about tests and paperwork, because now everyone has COVID.

  5. If you can’t process people in a timely manner (within 60 minutes) then they should force airlines to cancel/reschedule flights. Obviously the airlines don’t care much since they want to sell tickets.

    Another reason not to fly right now along with the chance of getting stuck somewhere due to travel rules changing.

  6. No concerns from the passengers having to sit in a crowded metal tube in the airways for 7+ hours on international flights??? Don’t travel to LHR if you don’t want to wait. No one should be flying for vacation purposes into the UK. Should have shut down LHR from the very start instead of allowing every Tom, Dick & Harry to enter.

  7. Unless I had to go anywhere outside the US for business, I would not waste my time or money this year going to Europe, SA, Asia, etc. . .

  8. With this as an issue, I’ve got to wonder why the UK doesn’t just slam a capacity limit into place on inbound flights (either per-day or per-hour)? BA et al can presumably consolidate their international footprint for a bit, and it isn’t like their equipment utilization is desperately squeezed at the moment, either, and folks who need to get from A to B are probably still less likely to complain loudly about the only flight leaving at 0200 or having to fly into BHX.

    Also, I thought there was mostly a ban on “non-essential” travel in place…which suggests that either those definitions are exceedingly porous or that the UK folks can’t even process /essential/ travel…and sadly, I can believe the latter.

    (Also, decidedly not in the Border Force’s defence is the question as to whether they could find a way to determine that the excessive waits were enough of an infection hazard to essentially half-arse the process to resolve this [or do so and throw up their hands at a lack of resources…that’s one thing the British civil servants aren’t good at doing, I guess…determining that they simply cannot actually do the job given with the resources on hand and figuring a way around the problem]. Then again, in the same vein one also wonders why, last March, the Customs folks in the US didn’t take to swiping US passports through with no questions asked and nothing more than a cursory glance at the photo to clear the backlogs. I can only presume that there were quite a few people trying to scramble in who weren’t US citizens but who were about to be caught up in the closure.)

  9. I thought of this reading elsewhere, but it seems like there are two things that could be done to smooth things over:
    (1) Require the hotel quarantine bookings to include the two tests as part of the booking. That’d save one “point of failure” (folks booking the hotel but not the tests) and eliminate a separate document check (the tests could be “assumed” via the hotel booking). This wouldn’t help with folks returning home, but it’d help almost everyone else.
    (2) Give the border agents the ability to forcibly issue “missing” parts of the requirements quickly (i.e. if a non-resident appears without an intended quarantine location…welp, you’re off to the Aloft now, and we’re just building the fine into your cost).

    I’m fairly certain that there’s some form of (2) that can be done…it’s just likely highly cumbersome at present.

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