Extra flights from India to Heathrow blocked by airport due to queue fears

Simon Calder
·2-min read
Escape route: Mumbai airport’s international terminal (Simon Calder)
Escape route: Mumbai airport’s international terminal (Simon Calder)

Just hours before India joins the red list of countries from which hotel quarantine is required, it has emerged that London Heathrow rejected requests by airlines to add extra flights.

The UK’s leading airport, which is handling between 10 and 15 per cent of its pre-pandemic passengers, turned down additional arrivals because of fears about long queues for UK Border Force.

Heathrow’s executives have said arriving travellers are waiting up to six hours to be processed at passport control. The airport blames insufficient resourcing by UK Border Force.

From 4am on Friday, all passengers arriving from India will need to pay upwards of £1,750 for 11 nights in hotel quarantine and two PCR tests.

India will become the 40th nation on the UK red list – and more than double the total population of countries from which hotel quarantine is required.

The decision was taken due to soaring infection rates and fears about a new coronavirus variant.

Ministers gave 86 hours of warning of the decision, compared with almost a week when Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines and Kenya were added to the red list earlier this month.

Many extra flights from Pakistan were operated to boost capacity ahead of the deadline.

But the airlift has not been repeated for India – partly because of Indian government restrictions on air links, and also because of the Heathrow clampdown.

The Independent understands that several airlines – believed to include Air India, British Airways and Vistara – asked to boost their existing flights from India to Heathrow with an additional eight departures.

Had the flights gone ahead, they would have allowed around 2,000 passengers who might have been able to fly in ahead of the deadline.

On Thursday, the final day before the red list rating takes effect, four flights are coming in from Delhi on Air India (which has two), British Airways and Vistara.

BA is also flying in from Bengaluru and Hyderabad to Heathrow.

Air India appears to have cancelled its flight from Amritsar to Birmingham.

The usual connecting options via the UAE and Qatar are unavailable, because both countries are already on the UK red list.

Passengers are flying via European hubs such as Frankfurt, with connecting flights from Delhi to the UK selling at above £1,200. Normal one-way indirect fares are under £300.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are in a global health pandemic, and people should not be travelling unless absolutely necessary.

“To protect the public and our vaccine rollout from new variants, Border Force is checking that every passenger has complied with current health measures when arriving at the border.

“Passengers should currently expect queues and wait times to be longer than normal.”

Earlier, MPs on the Transport Select Committee demanded better resourcing for the UK”s airports, calling for the government to “act immediately to reduce waiting times and queues at the UK border”.

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