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Passport e-gates back online after outage causes delays at UK airports

May 8th, 2024

A “nationwide issue” which caused huge delays at passport e-gates has been resolved, the Home Office has said.

Airports including Heathrow, Gatwick, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Bristol, Newcastle and Manchester all confirmed a Border Force problem was causing delays with arrivals late on Tuesday.

Pictures and videos on social media showed long queues.

One passenger told the BBC he spent longer queuing for passport control than he did on his flight from Lisbon.

E-gates are automated gates that use facial recognition to check a person’s identity and allow them to enter the country without talking to a Border Force officer.

There are more than 270 of them in place at 15 air and rail ports in the UK, according to the government’s website, which also says they are supposed to “enable quicker travel into the UK”.

Due to their outage, staff were left manually processing passengers instead.

The Home Office, which oversees Border Force, said in a statement early on Wednesday: “eGates at UK airports came back online shortly after midnight.”

A spokesperson for the Home Office said the problems were caused by a “system network issue” and were first reported around 19:50BST, meaning the issues persisted for more than four hours.

They added that “at no point was border security compromised, and there is no indication of malicious cyber activity”.

They extended apologies to “travellers caught up in disruption” and thanked “partners, including airlines for their co-operation and support” during the outage.

However, the problem did not appear to not just be affecting the e-gates themselves, as Belfast International Airport, which does not have them, said the Border Force “systems” had been impacted.

Steven Brownrigg, who arrived on a flight into Manchester Airport, told the BBC there were “several flights in quick succession, which meant a lot of passengers” queueing for passport control.

“I was in the queue for around 90 minutes. Priority was given to families with small children and vulnerable passengers, and staff were handing out bottled water to everyone,” he said.

“Generally, most were frustrated but accepted the situation, but a few people were unhappy and questioned staff.”

‘Totally blank’

A passenger at Heathrow described border officials rushing to manually process passport holders.

“All the e-gates were totally blank and there was just a lot of chaotic scenes,” said Sam Morter, 32, who was returning after a holiday in Sri Lanka.

He said he made it through the airport after about 90 minutes.

Samira, who had arrived from Spain, said people were distressed and “everyone was arguing”, while Julian, who had flown in from Lisbon, said: “I’ve spent longer in the terminal than I did in the air.”

Dennis Marsh was among the first people affected, and said he saw the e-gates go from green to red.

“It wasn’t just e-gates mind you. All manual checking procedures failed too,” he said.

“We were given water and were so lucky being right at the front.

“We waited about 40 minutes, so not too bad but thousands were arriving behind us.”

Manchester Airport said any excess charges for people who are late to leave car parks as a result of the problems would also be waived.

Tuesday is not the first time the UK’s automated e-gates have stopped working. Airports were also impacted by an IT issue in May 2023.

And in August last year, around 2,000 flights at airports across the UK were cancelled when the National Air Traffic Services system for automatically processing flight plans failed, leaving passengers stranded.

Additional reporting by Nicky Schiller

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