Published on Friday, July 24, 2020

Passengers told not to turn up too early for flights amid social distancing 'chaos'

Passengers are being told not to arrive earlier than necessary to check in for flights after images emerged on social media of packed departure areas, with little possibility of social distancing at Heathrow and other airports.

The problem has been exacerbated by people arriving up to eight hours early for flights, partly because they mistakenly thought check-in and security would take longer because of coronavirus.

One person posted on social media to say people were packed in 'like sardines' at Heathrow, another described the situation as 'chaos', while customers flying out of other UK airports, including Gatwick and Manchester, have also reported heavy queues and some passengers not wearing face masks.

There are fears the situation will worsen as more passengers fly out on holiday this weekend and over the coming days and weeks.

Heathrow said: "Some passengers are arriving several hours in advance of their flights which is not necessary and is causing some congestion issues.

"To prevent this, passengers are advised to arrive no earlier than two hours before a short-haul flight and three hours for long-haul journeys.

"Our teams are on hand to support where possible, but we recognise that there are points in the journey where social distancing is not always possible. That is why face coverings are mandatory in terminals, as they help to reduce the risk of transmission at the airport."

Sports journalist Jon Noble told the Evening Standard: "It was a pretty shocking lack of effort from Heathrow in sorting out their queueing system. Looks like [Heathrow] has made zero effort for social distancing. What a disgrace."

Heathrow Chief Executive John Holland-Kaye warned weeks ago that social distancing would not be possible at airports because there was not enough room to ensure people kept apart properly.

Passenger Gillian Hatt said Manchester Airport needed to 'buck its ideas up' after saying the experience was badly organised.

She told the Manchester Evening News there were no markers in the departure lounge to aid social distancing and that chairs were 'piled up' on tables outside cafes, adding: "They have had three months to prepare but it looked so last minute.

"They kept sending messages over the loudspeaker about social distancing but didn't provide the means for passengers to do that because of the amount of areas blocked off.

"There must have been less than a thousand people in the airport but there was nowhere for anybody to go and sit or stand or have themselves a small piece of space, it felt crowded. Everyone was blocked into a small area looking at boards and there were areas marked as 'unusable' for no apparent reason.

"I think the supermarkets are doing a better job than Manchester Airport."

She said the experience at Manchester was a sharp contrast to arriving in Greece. "They can't have done any more. There were two-metre markings everywhere in the airport, including at the bag collection point, in passport control and there was someone going down the line asking questions about symptoms."

Manchester Airport said: "The government has been clear that social distancing will not always be possible within airports, as is the case with all forms of public transport.

"In recognition of that, a wide range of additional safety measures have been introduced at Manchester airport, in line with official guidance and following a series of successful trials.

"These include a requirement to wear face coverings across our site, asking only travelling passengers to enter the terminals, an enhanced cleaning regime and the installation of protective screens in key locations."

By Lisa James, Deputy Editor (UK)

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  • Heathrow Open More Terminals

    If Heathrow is having problems with social distancing why not open up Terminals 3 & 4? In my experience the greatest obstacle to travel at present is the concern clients have with travelling through airports and of course on aircraft. The travel industry in general is doing a great job trying to reassure passengers fears but it really is disheartening reading stories about our major airports underperforming in this way. Clive Stacey Discover the World

    By Clive Stacey, Saturday, July 25, 2020

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