Blog: Why are there so many train strikes, flight cancellations, long queues at Dover and travel chaos? – Daily Mail

Is Brexit REALLY to blame? How about Covid? Are staff shortages making things worse? The reasons behind scenes of chaos gripping ports, railways and airports this summer

By Mark Duell for MailOnline

Published: | Updated:

Britons have now faced months of travel chaos at airports, with concerns over last-minute cancellations or huge queues now a regular concern for passengers.

But the transport mayhem has spread to ports in recent days with six-hour queues experienced at Dover last Friday and long waits for the Eurotunnel at Folkstone.

Now another mode of transport to Europe has been hit, with passengers suffering delays and cancellations to Eurostar services to and from London and Paris.

And there is more disruption on the way this Wednesday when the effects of the UK rail strike are felt on train services between St Pancras and the Continent.

Here, MailOnline looks at what has gone wrong for transport networks in recent months amid a massive rise in demand as the pandemic has eased: 

PORTS

What happened at Dover?

Bumper-to-bumper traffic stretching for miles at the Port of Dover has marred the journeys of tens of thousands of families at the start of the school summer holidays.

There were also long queues on the roads approaching Eurotunnel’s Folkestone terminal over the weekend as people also tried to get to France under the Channel.

Why were the queues so big?

Extra post-Brexit border checks and French authorities’ understaffing of checkpoints in Dover have been blamed for the hold-ups – as well as a serious crash on the M20.

Are the queues still long at Dover?

The Port of Dover has been experiencing a busy start to the week today, but there has been no return so far of the severe disruption seen in the previous three days.

P&O Ferries said queues ‘picked up’ this morning, and it took an hour for passengers to clear French passport control. By the afternoon, P&O confirmed that the approach roads into Dover and the lanes at the front of the port were clear.

Toby Howe, senior highways manager at Kent County Council, said this morning that the queues at the Port of Dover were ‘normal for a Monday morning’. 

National Highways reopened the coastbound M20 between junctions 9 and 11 in Kent at about 1am today – but it remains closed to non-freight traffic between junctions 8 and 9 as part of Operation Brock, in place due to the issues at Dover.

Cars queue at the check-in at the Port of Dover in Kent today as families travel on getaways

Is passport stamping causing the problems?

One of the main causes blamed for the delays has been the post-Brexit requirement for British passport holders to get their passports stamped, which is said to have increased the average time to check each car from 58 seconds to 90 seconds.

The reason for the stamp is that post-Brexit travel rules mean British nationals can only stay in the Schengen zone for up to 90 days in any 180-day period.

Britain was never a member of Schengen – but before Brexit the UK was subject to EU immigration law that allowed no border control, free movement for long-stay travellers and the right to work, study or live in the UK for residents of EU countries. 

Asked whether the UK would like the French to stop stamping travellers’ passports, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘Generally speaking we have a good relationship working with our French counterparts on these juxtaposed controls.

‘It is for, obviously, individual governments to decide how to carry out checks at the border. Our view is that these should be done proportionately and sensibly given the good working relationships that we have.’

Is the trouble at Dover because of Brexit?

The Government has insisted changes to border control measures after Brexit did not have a ‘significant role’ in the disruption at Dover, and that problems occurred because French authorities did not provide enough border officials on Friday.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said today: ‘We understand there are changes, post-Brexit. We recognise that, we have planned for that.’

The problems at Dover are down to a combination of factors ‘including a shortage of French border control staff’, the spokesman said, adding: ’So these are not scenes that we think are necessitated by leaving the European Union.’

A view of the check-in at the Port of Dover in Kent today following a weekend of long delays

What do the French say about staff shortages?

The local French police body handling the northern France area around the Channel Tunnel said last Friday that problems with traffic coming over from Dover had been caused by an ‘unexpected technical incident’ under the Channel Tunnel. 

François Decoster, vice president of the Haute-de-France region, which includes Calais, said the UK had gone back 30 years because of Brexit and suggested the UK should ask the EU to let them join Schengen which allows free movement of people. 

Is Covid to blame for the problems at Dover?

There is no suggestion that staff illness – Covid or otherwise – has affected the lack of French border police in position at Dover. 

However, the huge surge in passengers going on summer holidays is certainly related to Covid given that the pandemic-era travel restrictions have now eased.

What could happen this summer?

Toby Howe, senior highways manager at Kent County Council, said of the rest of this summer: ‘It’s a very vulnerable situation, it takes very little to cause further issues.

‘So, for example, last Friday night we had the Port of Dover telling us there was a lack of resource at the port but we then had a serious crash on the motorway as well so those two things together then really compounded the situation.

‘So you only need another crash on the road or maybe a train breaks down or there’s a power failure somewhere for it then to become a big problem.’

The Port of Dover has said the fact it was able to clear traffic this weekend demonstrates that its ‘summer plan will work for the rest of the holiday period’.

However the AA said ‘significant progress’ would be needed to help reduce congestion in the weeks ahead. The RAC Foundation said the delays at Dover were ‘stark evidence of how fragile our continental links across the Channel can be’.

RAIL 

What is happening on Eurostar?

British passengers were stranded in both England and France last night after final trains both from Paris to London and from London to Paris were cancelled.

There were also problems today – with the 8.01am train from London to Paris and the 1.13pm from Paris to London axed ‘for operation reasons,’ according to Eurostar.

Why are there problems on Eurostar?

The latest issues were caused by a broken-down train on the line in France, which caused on a knock-on effort on all services as passengers were forced to rebook.

There was then a build-up of queues yesterday because only four out on nine Eurostar ticket booths were open at Paris Gare du Nord station.

People queue for Eurostar trains at London St Pancras today as the summer holidays begin

Have the problems now subsided?

Eurostar is due to run a normal service for the rest of today and tomorrow, but there is further disruption expected on Wednesday because of strike action.

How will Eurostar be affected by the UK train strike?

Workers at Network Rail and 14 rail operating companies are set to strike in England this Wednesday in a dispute led by the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT).

Although this strike does not involve Eurostar staff, it will have an impact on the timetable because running hours have been reduced on UK rail lines, including the high-speed line the operator uses.

Eurostar has cancelled three services from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord, five from Paris to London, one from London to Amsterdam Centraal (via Brussels Midi) and two from Amsterdam to London (via Brussels).

The operator has also warned passengers of changes to the departure times of some other trains that are still running – including the day after the strike, on Thursday.

There is also due to be a separate strike by members of drivers’ union Aslef at seven train operators on Saturday, but this is not expected to impact Eurostar services.

Eurostar passengers queue for trains at London St Pancras today amid the travel disruption

Will the number of Eurostar trains be increased?

Eurostar is thought to be pushing to increase the number of trains between the two capitals to 17 a day.

But French border police and security scanning personnel are said to claim they are suffering from chronic staffing shortages and cannot handle more services.

AIRPORTS

Which airlines have been worst hit by the chaos?

EasyJet has been one of the worst hit airlines for cancellations in recent months. It has axed thousands of flights, including many on the day they were due to depart.

British Airways has axed tens of thousands of flights in advance, with the latest batch revealed on July 5 coming because previous schedule cuts proved insufficient.

Passengers queue for check-in at Manchester Airport’s Terminal 2 this morning

Which airports have been most affected?

Gatwick Airport was badly hit earlier this year amid huge queues, although it has improved in recent months – in part because 400 new security staff have been hired.

Massive queues have also been seen at most other major airports at some point over the past few months – with Manchester and Bristol two of the other flashpoints.

Heathrow has also been very busy – and earlier this month introduced a cap of 100,000 daily departing passengers until September 11 in an effort to cut disruption.

Why have airports faced so much disruption?

One of the biggest issues has been a sudden rebound in passenger numbers towards the start of this year after they collapsed at the height of the Covid pandemic, when airports and airline operations were downsized as a result. 

Some firms such as easyJet and British Airways have been struggling to ramp up their operations quickly enough to meet demand which has been surging.

All UK Covid travel restrictions are now lifted, which has been a major driver of resurgent demand, while airlines have also endured a high levels of staff illness both for Covid and other reasons.

Passengers queue to check-in at London Heathrow Airport’s Terminal Two today

Why was there such a delay in increasing staff? 

One of the major problems for airports and airlines was the extra security clearances and background checks required for people to work in the industry, resulting in a long time lag between someone being offered a job and actually starting the role. 

Some industry bosses had also previously suggested that Brexit had played a role, because airlines no longer have access to a pool of EU workers to fill the gaps. 

What is the situation now? 

Many airports such as Heathrow and Manchester are still seeing large queues in terminals amid the start of the school summer holidays.

But there are now far fewer last-minute cancellations after airlines decided to pre-emptively cancel to cut disruption when people are travelling to or at the airport.

The Airport Operators Association has said: ‘The vast majority of passengers across the UK are now getting away on their holidays with no or minimal disruption.’ 

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Why are there so many train strikes, flight cancellations, long queues at Dover and travel chaos?

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