IT system failures at UK airports and Dover ferry port
Thousands of people heading away on half-term breaks faced long delays at Britain’s busiest passenger ferry port after a computer system went down.
Roads into Dover were gridlocked yesterday morning after the IT network crashed at French border controls at the Kent port, stopping anyone from boarding cross-Channel ships.
At the same time air travellers arriving at UK airports throughout Saturday faced long queues through passport controls after the technology for e-gates crashed on Friday night.
Last night sources at the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (Jtac) confirmed they were examining the possibility that the IT failures at main UK airports had resulted from a computer network attack, a theory arising from the fact that straight overloads would usually allow a system to be re-booted.
“Yes, this is a Bank Holiday weekend with heavy passenger traffic but the system should be able to cope,” said a source from Jtac.
Separately, sources at the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) confirmed a deliberate network attack was being considered, adding: “Initial investigations don’t indicate a cyber attack, but we cannot be sure because tests are still ongoing.”
Millions of people were expected to take to train, plane or automobile for getaways this Bank Holiday weekend, which also heralds the Whitsun half-term break for school children across England and Wales.
But the French IT failure at Dover caused long traffic tailbacks with car and lorry passengers facing several hours of delays to board ferries on Saturday morning.
By yesterday afternoon the Port of Dover posted on Twitter: “Thank you for your patience as we catch up from earlier IT issues at border control, which have been resolved.”
“Traffic is now processing well through the border. Average waiting times for cars and coaches are now 90 minutes.”
Thousands of travelers faced long delays
Nearly seven million motorists a day were expected to take to the roads during the long weekend, making it the busiest late May bank holiday since the pandemic, according to the RAC.
Trains offered little relief, with more than 550 rail engineering works planned for this weekend, before strikes hit 19 operators on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, which will see half of all services being scrapped.
It means mayhem on Saturday for some of the 80,000 fans travelling to the FA Cup final and 100,000 heading to the Epsom Derby.
Aslef and RMT walkouts will also cause knock-on disruption on Thursday and Sunday, while a ban on drivers’ overtime means customers face short-notice cancellations due to train firms being short-staffed on Thursday.
A Rail Delivery Group spokesperson said: “There will be reduced services. Strikes will cause disappointment and frustration, inconveniencing families who have planned half-term holidays.”
Engineering projects costing £60million this weekend have led to the shutting of London Charing Cross station, the axing of a London to Southampton service, the London to Glasgow west coast mainline delayed by 90 minutes north of Carlisle, and buses instead of trains near Croydon, south London.
Network Rail said: “The Bank Holiday weekend gives us an opportunity to work when fewer passengers are travelling.”
“The vast majority of the network is open for business as usual, but its really important to check your journey before you travel.”
Airports, which were just beginning to recover from the mayhem cause by a BA software failure on Thursday and Friday – which resulted in 20,000 passenger journeys being axed – found themselves tackling another major IT debacle after e-gates broke down
The automated electronic-gate system allows UK citizens aged over 12 and those from the EU, as well as people from several other countries including Australia, Canada, the US, Japan and New Zealand to bypass manual passport checks.
But their failure caused chaos for passengers landing at Britain’s largest airports.
“Our staff are working with UK Border Force – who operate passport control including the e-gates – to provide assistance to passengers where necessary,” said a spokesman for Gatwick.”
Heathrow posted on Twitter: “We are aware of a nationwide issue impacting the eGates, which are operated by Border Force.”
“This issue is impacting a number of ports of entry and is not Heathrow specific.”
“Our teams are working closely with Border Force to help resolve the problem as quickly as possible and we have additional colleagues on hand to manage queues and provide passenger welfare.”
“We apologise for any impact this is having to passenger journeys.”
A Home Office spokeswoman said the Border Force had put in place “robust plans” to deploy officers to minimise disruption and wait times.
Almost 200 flights were scrapped, split between Thursday and Friday, leaving planes and staff in the wrong locations for weekend departures. Most ditched flights were from Heathrow.
Which? Travel magazine editor Rory Boland said: “BA is breaking its promise it would avoid a repeat of last year’s travel chaos. It is holiday hell as a result of yet another IT disaster.”
BA said: “We are extremely sorry.”
Heathrow was forced to draft in hundreds of extra staff to prevent further cancellations due to a three-day security staff strike which finished last night.
Travellers at many airports face big check-in queues again today – with warnings of further disruption next weekend at passport control gates and waiting for luggage unloading.
It capped a bad week for passengers after Manchester Airport saw hundreds miss flights due to a power cut before the weekend.
Two million Brits were jetting abroad this weekend, with Friday seeing 3,000 flights depart on airports’ busiest day since 2019.