Ministers and port authorities have been told to get their act together to avoid a repeat of Easter getaway chaos at Dover that saw thousands of tourists trapped for hours.
The travel nightmare saw holiday-goers facing six-hour queues to get through border checks at the Kent port.
One ferry firm said today that the tailbacks had finally eased this morning, but the fallout from the carnage remains.
The cause of the backlog is hotly disputed, with port officials blaming extra passport checks for coach passengers brought in as a result of Brexit – something disputed by the Government.
Horror stories from the queue emerged last night. One football team’s trip to Amsterdam cancelled after they had to wait an astonishing 14 hours at the port.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer today told the authorities to ‘get a grip’.
‘We have had this before, we had it last summer and last Easter, it is a lack of planning.
‘Of course Brexit has had an impact … but once we left it was obvious what happened at the border had to change. Yet again we have got to the first holiday of the year and we have chaos.’
Coaches wait in to the evening to enter the Port of Dover in Kent after extra sailings were run overnight to try and clear the backlog
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer today told the authorities to ‘get a grip’. ‘We have had this before, we had it last summer and last Easter, it is a lack of planning.’
P&O Ferries told coach drivers to head straight to the port to join the buffer zone queues
Traffic delays began on Friday. Coaches wanting to enter the Port of Dover were seen waiting into the evening on Sunday
‘It is particularly the lack of planning around coach parties and that really affects school children as well.’
Pressed for solutions, Ms Cooper added: ‘I would urge the Home Office, the transport department, to talk with Dover and also with their French counterparts to make sure that we don’t get a re-run of this.’
Traffic delays began on Friday and passengers hoping to get away for their Easter break will face a few more hours waiting to be processed at border controls and then get on a ferry.
P&O Ferries told coach drivers to head straight to the port to join the buffer zone queues, where advance passenger information (API) will be taken, but said ‘currently there is a 6+ hour wait to reach the border check points’.
Some had to cancel their holidays altogether due to the mayhem, with a coach carrying a football team having to abandon the trip after the driver reached the maximum time limit at the wheel.
After 12 hours stuck in the vehicle, the coach company said the driver could no longer stay behind the wheel and they were unable to board their ferry.
Coach David Martin told ITV: ‘We then had to sit in the queue for another two hours because we were stuck in the middle of a line of coaches because we couldn’t go anywhere. So, we actually had to wait until we got to the front of the queue for passport checks where we could then turn the coach round, leave Dover and head home again.’
The players said they were ‘really disappointed’ over the cancellation, adding that the entire team had been excited for the trip.
It comes as the Port of Dover issued a statement on Sunday evening, saying: ‘All of this weekend’s coach traffic is now contained in the port ready for processing through immigration controls.
‘Coaches have been processed throughout the day along with tourist cars and freight vehicles.
‘The Port of Dover continues to work with the ferry operators and border agencies to get the remaining coach passengers on their way as quickly as possible. We continue to offer our sincere apologies for the prolonged delays.’
Earlier, Home Secretary Suella Braverman rejected suggestions that Brexit could be the cause of delays at the port as passengers endured long queues and cancelled trips.
Traffic delays began on Friday and passengers hoping to get away for their Easter break on Sunday night will face a few more hours waiting to be processed at border controls and then get on a ferry
Airports are filling up with passengers who are hoping to get away over the Easter holidays (pictured: departure lounge at Terminal 3 of Manchester Airport)
Ms Braverman said it would not be fair to view the delays as ‘an adverse effect of Brexit’.
She told Sophy Ridge On Sunday on Sky News: ‘What I would say is at acute times when there is a lot of pressure crossing the Channel, whether that’s on the tunnel or ferries, then I think that there’s always going to be a back-up and I just urge everybody to be a bit patient while the ferry companies work their way through the backlog.’
She also downplayed fears that delays at Dover could become a regular occurrence that risks ruining school holiday plans.
She suggested that in general ‘things have been operating very smoothly at the border’.
Extra sailings were run overnight to try to clear the backlog but by Sunday morning the port still estimated some travellers would face waits of up to eight hours, depending on the ferry operator.
The port previously declared a critical incident and said the delays were ‘due to lengthy French border processes and sheer volume’.
Port officials said they had been ‘working round the clock’ with ferry operators and border agencies to try to get coach passengers on their way and more than 300 coaches left the port on Saturday, while the freight backlog was cleared and tourist cars had been successfully processed.
Port officials said they had been ‘working round the clock’ with ferry operators and border agencies to try to get coach passengers on their way. Pictured: Coaches waiting to enter the Port of Dover on Sunday night
Extra sailings were run overnight to try to clear the backlog but by Sunday morning, but coaches were still pictured waiting into the evening
Dozens of coaches sit waiting to clear border control at the Port of Dover on Sunday, April 2, as travel chaos continues for a third day
On Saturday, passenger Rosie Pearson described the travel scenes in Dover as ‘carnage’ as she was stuck for 16 hours with her husband and two teenagers.
Ms Pearson, 50, is an environmental campaigner from Essex and was travelling to Val d’Isere in the French Alps on an overnight bus.
Charity director Maggie Gordon-Walker, of Brighton, said her son’s school trip to Italy’s Folgarida area had to be cancelled due to health concerns for the tired coach drivers caused by the delays.
Ms Gordon-Walker, who feels the delays have been ‘exacerbated hugely because of Brexit red tape’, told the PA news agency: ‘They arrived at Dover around 8pm yesterday (Saturday) and were shunted off to a services near Folkestone.
‘They returned to Dover around 2am and stayed in the coach in the queue until 9.20am this morning, when it was decided the trip had to be cancelled on the grounds of health and safety because the coach drivers would have needed a nine-hour rest break upon arrival in France, so the school party would have been travelling for over 48 hours without sleep.’
Ms Gordon-Walker, who had been paying for the trip in instalments, added: ‘My son is knackered and deflated. I feel sorry for him and angry that this has happened.’
Shadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy said ‘a range of factors’ have caused the delays, but she claimed the Government had not planned for what was going to happen post-Brexit.
She told Sophy Ridge On Sunday that ministers had ‘known for a very long time that they needed to make sure that there were resources in place to deal with additional paperwork checks’.
She added: ‘The point is not whether we left the European Union or not. The point was that we left with a Government that made big promises and once again didn’t deliver.
‘I really feel for the families that are trying to get away for an Easter break, people who have been caught up in this chaos, people whose livelihoods are threatened.
‘It didn’t need to be this way.
‘If the Government got a grip, got down to brass tacks and started doing their actual job, all these things could be avoided.’
Furious parents said that their children have been left waiting at Dover for up to 17 hours.
Poor weather, long processing times by French border officials and a surge in coach bookings at the start of the Easter break has left some holidaymakers beginning their trips abroad in the worst possible fashion.
Schoolchildren sit next to their coach after it was stopped in a holding pen at the Port of Dover on Sunday, April 2
Additional ferry services were put on overnight in a bid to clear the backlog, but despite claims from the Port things would be back to normal by midday, coaches still face a 10-hour wait on Sunday.
Yesterday one parent hit out at the treatment of children who were left stuck on coaches overnight and only given ‘a KitKat at midnight’ for food as they tried to get through customs.
One father said he was forced to walk for 45 minutes from the port to the town of Dover in a bid to get food for his family and that people are struggling to find free drinking water.
Ferry operators P&O and DFDS first reported disruption to their services on Friday night, with the latter saying strong winds were adding to the problem.
Officials added that ferry companies had received 15 per cent more coach bookings over the Easter holidays than expected, with the process of bringing coaches on board being slower than loading cars, the BBC reports.
By Saturday evening P&O Ferries said there were waits of up to 10 hours – five to reach the cruise terminal, and another five in a holding zone for coaches.
It said it was putting on additional crossings overnight to help clear the backlog, but as of Sunday afternoon coaches were still left waiting for more than 10 hours, according to the firm.
On Twitter P&O Ferries wrote: ‘Coaches arriving at Cruise Terminal 1 have an approx. wait of 4 hours during which API will be completed, you will then be called down to join the buffer zone at the Port of Dover where there is a further 6+ hour wait.’
This will come as little comfort for people on coaches trying to cross the Channel to Europe, many of who are schoolchildren going on trips abroad.
One coachload of schoolchildren were left starving after being stuck at the port for more than 15 hours and only being given a KitKat at midnight for food, according to parents.
Gillian Charlton, 43, said her son Ned, 13, and his friends have been in a holding area since arriving at the Kent port at around 7.30pm last night
The students set off for their ski trip at 9.30am Saturday morning from Chorley, Lancashire, and had been expecting to catch an overnight ferry before continuing their journey by coach to Pila, Aosta Valley, Italy.
But mum Gillian said they waited for 14 hours before being moved up to passport control and have now been waiting for a further two hours – with no sign of movement.
Gillian Charlton (pictured) said she was ‘fuming’ after her son Ned was stuck in a queue for more than 15 hours at the port
Coach passengers step off their vehicles as they wait to get onto their ferries to France on Sunday, April 2
The delays have been caused by poor weather and delays at border control, the port says. Pictured: Coaches lining up at border control on Sunday, April 2
She said the children are only allowed to get off to use a portaloo and were given one KitKat at midnight.
Gillian, a social care worker, from Chorley, Lancashire, said: ‘It’s shambolic.
‘I don’t think they have access to running water and can’t get off – only to use the portaloo.
‘They were given a KitKat at midnight. Children are feeling unsafe. They are all starving.’
Gillian said her son Ned had been really looking forward to the ski trip and the family had been saving up to make sure he could go.
She said there are hundreds of coaches behind her son’s coach but cars are ‘flying through’.
Gillian said: ‘I’m disgusted. My son said there are hundred coaches behind them – and I think it’s mainly school kids.
‘I sent him off with food for the day and they had breakfast vouchers to get food in France in the morning.
‘I’m fuming. The fact that it’s mainly school children penned in.
‘They should have restricted the bookings. They know how many people turn up at the ports. I’m so worried.’
Her views were echoed by Marc Mitchell-Miles, 47, whose daughter Lily set off from Weston-super-Mare at 3pm on Saturday with school friends for a week long ski trip in Italy.
The party of 100 students -who are travelling on two coaches – arrived at the Portof Dover in Kent at 8pm on Saturday evening, but have not moved since.
Father-of-two Marc said: ‘As parents we’re terribly upset and worried that they’re having to go through this and I can’t be there to provide comfort and reassurance in person.
‘We can’t settle until we know what’s going on.
‘There is also the cost of the trip which they’re going to be missing out on a sizeable chunk of.
‘It cost around £900 for the trip, but then there is also spending money and ski lessons before going on top of this.
‘We wanted this to be a memorable experience, but not for this reason.
‘The coach left Weston-super-Mare around 3pm yesterday and arrived at 8pm last night.
‘They have just been advised that it could be another nine-hour wait.
‘They have not been given any food by the port.
‘My daughter just spoke to me and said she and her friends have gone out to find and buy some sandwiches.
‘They’re tired from the journey up and have had zero sleep, and she feels like she just wants to come home and is quite teary.
‘Lily missed her school camp in Year Six due to Covid and this was the first time she’s been away without us, and has been a bitterly disappointing experience.
‘We’re not able to settle at home either because we don’t know what’s happening and if there’s a plan to move things forward.
‘The school have just posted some footage on Facebook and social media and the teachers look like they’re doing their best to occupy the kids.’
He added: ‘The irony of the whole situation is that one of the schools going with them was let down last minute by their coach company and had to book a flight instead.
‘They thought they were going to miss out, but it has very much worked in their favour and they are probably already there by now.’
People stand outside their coaches as they wait to get onto their ferry at the Port of Dover on Sunday, April 2
Long lines of coaches wait to make their way through the Port of Dover on Sunday, April 2
One parent who was travelling by coach with his family claimed her had to walk for three quarters of an hour to find food while the vehicle was stuck in the queue.
Cerie Bullivant said he’s been stuck in the line for 10 hours after leaving London Victoria at midnight with his wife Astracia and his kids aged nine, seven, five and one, and they were hoping to get the 10am ferry across to Amsterdam to visit Astracia’s parents for the Easter holidays.
He said: ‘At the Dover port, the queue for the women’s toilets is absolutely awful. It has been snaking around the block all morning.
‘The men’s toilets on the other hand have no queue like usual.
‘We don’t seem to have any access to free drinking water and can’t find anywhere to fill up our water bottles.
‘I have just come back from walking into Dover town centre to find my family some food. It was a 45-minute walk each way.
‘At the port there is a small Costa to provide for all the people here and all the vending machines in the port are completely empty.
‘The worst thing is no one is telling us anything and we are not getting any updates.
‘So far we have been able to keep the kids entertained with Netflix – thank Goodness for Netflix. And we have been bribing them to behave with sweets and treats.
‘When I went to the P&O desk earlier to ask for an update, the lady on the desk didn’t know anything – which isn’t her fault.
‘We would just like to get some kind of update on the wait time and ferry situation.
‘The cars don’t seem to be having a problem getting onto the ferries as they have a separate lane to the coaches. It is the coach lane which is taking forever.’
In a statement issued on Sunday morning, port authorities said: ‘The Port of Dover has been working round the clock with the ferry operators and border agencies to get coach passengers on their way, with extra sailings being put on overnight to help clear the backlog.
‘Over 300 coaches departed the port on Saturday, with the freight backlog cleared and tourist cars processed successfully.
‘There remain pockets of coaches still waiting to be processed with smaller volumes of coaches expected today.
‘The Port remains deeply frustrated by the continuing situation caused by a mix of lengthy immigration processes at the border and sheer volume of traffic, particularly on behalf of those who have waited for such a long time.
Vehicles spent hours queuing at border control as they attempted to get on ferries heading to France. Pictured: Queues at the port on Saturday
There are delays of up to six hours at the Port of Dover this morning, after days of chaos. Pictured: Long queues at French border control on Saturday
It is reported there was an increase in coach bookings by 15 per cent for the East getaway, which contributed to the delays. Pictured: People walk alongside coaches waiting to board a ferry in Dover on Saturday
‘Minimal freight is expected today and so the focus remains on ensuring all partners work to get the remaining coaches and other tourist traffic on its way as soon as possible.
‘We continue to offer our sincere apologies for the prolonged delays.’
Speaking on Sunday, Home Secretary Suella Braverman rejected suggestions that Brexit was to blame for the delays.
She said: ‘What I would say is at acute times when there is a lot of pressure crossing the Channel, whether that’s on the tunnel or ferries, then I think that there’s always going to be a back-up and I just urge everybody to be a bit patient while the ferry companies work their way through the backlog.’
She also downplayed any fears that delays at Dover could become a regular occurrence that risks ruining school holiday plans.
She suggested that in general ‘things have been operating very smoothly at the border’.
Speaking on the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme, she added: ‘I don’t think this is the state of affairs to go forward.
‘I think we have got a particular combination of factors that have occurred at this point in time.
‘This will ease. I ask everybody to check their journey times carefully, but it is a busy time of year.’
Hundreds of lorries were seen queuing down the A20 to reach the port on Saturday, April 1
The Port of Dover has said it is ‘deeply frustrated’ by the backlog, which have been caused by poor weather and delays at French border processing. Pictured: Vehicles queue for border control at Dover on Saturday
One woman described the situation as ‘carnage’, having been stuck in an overnight bus for 16 hours.
Rosie Pearson, 50, an environmental campaigner from Essex travelling to Val d’Isere in the French Alps with her family on an overnight bus, said it was a ‘shambles’.
It was due to arrive at 2.15pm on Saturday, but Ms Pearson, her husband and two teenagers will now not make it until 6am on Sunday due to delays in Dover.
‘The whole thing was a shambles… Not a single bit of communication,’ Ms Pearson said.
‘It was carnage… The worst thing was that no-one told us anything for the whole 16 hours, literally nothing.
‘Shocking that something this chaotic can happen. My children’s school has a ski trip this week (they are not on it, with us instead) and their bus was turned away last night – they had to sleep at a service station and come back this morning.’
A Government spokesman said: ‘We remain in close contact with ferry operators and the French authorities regarding delays at the port.’