Chaos at Dover ‘threatens international coach travel’

Reported delays of up to 17 hours at the port of Dover over the weekend due to longer passenger processing times came as additional bookings were taken by ferry firms for the Easter holidays.

While the severe backlog that started developing on Friday had eased by this morning (Monday), the port voiced “deep frustration” as coach travellers – many being schoolchildren on half-term trips – were forced to endure lengthy waits with up to 20,000 people reportedly sitting in lengthy queues. Some coaches turned around and went home due to the disruption. 

The port worked around the clock with ferry operators and border agencies in an effort to clear the delays. Extra night-time sailings were laid on but ferry movements were affected by bad weather, with strong winds affecting departures.

The chaotic scenes promoted a stark warning  from coach trade body, the Confederation of Passenger Transport.

The CPT said: “Coaches need a clear path to cross the channel. The future of international coach travel really does hang on this sort of episode not reoccurring.”

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The port said it was “deeply frustrated” about the situation “and  particularly so on behalf of all the ferry operators’ coach passengers who have had to endure such a long wait”.

The port of Dover said: “Whilst freight and car traffic was processed steadily regardless of the additional challenging weather conditions and high seasonal volumes, coach traffic suffered significant delays due to lengthy French border processes and sheer volume.

“Despite considerable pre-planning with our ferry operators, border agency partners and the Kent Resilience Forum and the success of similar plans for processing substantial numbers of coaches during the most recent half term period, the additional coach bookings taken by ferry operators for Easter, has impacted operations for the port.

“Through the ferry operators and the port, food and drink has been provided to those coach passengers caught up in the border queues.

“We offer our sincere apologies for the prolonged delays that people have endured and continue to work with all of our partners to get all passengers on their way as quickly as possible.”

In an update on Sunday evening, the port said that all of the weekend’s coach traffic was now contained ready for processing through immigration controls.

The statement added: “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.”   

P&O Ferries said: “There are no longer any queues at the entrance to the Port of Dover. We apologise for the wait times experienced this weekend.”

Home secretary Suella Braverman told Sky News on Sunday it would be unfair to view the delays as “as adverse effect of Brexit”.

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 there’s always going to be a back-up and I just urge everyone to be a bit patient while the ferry companies work their way through the backlog.”

The focus will now switch to the Easter bank holiday and traffic returning to the UK over the weekend of April 15-16.

Insufficient capacity at the French border control facility on the UK side of the Channel led to excessive queues and long delays on the first Friday of the summer 2022 getaway last July (pictured).

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