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Passports: Britons say ‘nightmare’ months-long delays to passport applications putting trips at risk

Britons say their holiday plans are being thrown into doubt because of ‘nightmare’ delays in receiving new passports.

Families say they fear missing out on long-awaited trips because they have not yet received the important travel documents – despite ordering them months ago.

One family today revealed how they are yet to receive a passport despite shelling out an extra £100 to ‘fast track’ their application in order to secure the document in time for their holiday.

Meanwhile, a wedding photographer today said she faced losing out on a £3,000 job in France because her passport has not arrived – despite her ordering it back in September. 

It comes as officials today sounded the alarm over the delays, which they say are being caused by an ‘unprecedented demand’ for new passports.

Officials say five million Britons have delayed renewing their passports because of coronavirus restrictions. 

And post-Brexit travel rules from the EU have complicated matters further as they require travelling Britons to have at least three months validity remaining when travelling to EU member nations.

As a result, Britons are now being warned they face a 10-week wait for their passport – instead of the usual three week turnaround time.

The delays are causing chaos for families who are still yet to receive their passports – despite ordering them months ago.

One family today told MailOnline how they face losing out on a £1,100 holiday to Spain next month because they are still without one of their passports.

Ellie Freeman, from Nottinghamshire, said her family (pictured) are still waiting on one passport in order to travel to the Spanish coastal town of Tossa Del Mar next month

Five million Britons delayed renewing their passports because of coronavirus restrictions

Five million Britons delayed renewing their passports because of coronavirus restrictions

Delays in processing passport applications are ‘really disappointing’, says Heathrow Airport chief 

Delays in processing passport applications are “really disappointing”, the boss of Heathrow Airport has said.

Chief executive John Holland-Kaye told the PA news agency it is “vital” that people can go on holiday this summer in case the UK reintroduces coronavirus travel restrictions.

It emerged on Monday that the Passport Office is dealing with a backlog in applications.

Mr Holland-Kaye said: “Normally the Passport Office is very slick in processing passports. It’s really disappointing to hear (about delays).

“If it’s not resolved, it is going to mean that people can’t get away.

“After two years of lockdown, we need to make sure people can have a good holiday because many of them have vouchers that they’ve been saving up, they’ve got trips of a lifetime that they’ve put on hold, and we don’t know when things might get closed down again.

“Making the most of the summer is vital.”

The House of Commons heard about one woman who has waited more than five months to receive her daughter’s new passport, with services branded “either really very good or an absolute shambles”.

SNP home affairs spokesman Stuart McDonald asked: “All our constituents are having to cancel holidays, miss funerals, rearrange visits, with even a new 10-week target routinely being failed.

“What will be done to avoid this predictable mess getting worse? And can we be assured that the 10-week target will not be lengthened further as we approach the summer?”

Home Office minister Kevin Foster said: “We don’t have any intention to further extend that standard.

“We are at the moment processing most passports well within it, but we would advise people this is a very, virtually unprecedented surge in demand, and if people are planning to travel this summer we would advise them to get their application in as soon as possible.”

He said the Passport Office dealt with a million applications last month, compared with seven million per year before the pandemic.

Conservative MP Simon Hoare described the backlog as “unprecedented, true, but foreseeable, absolutely”.

 

Ellie Freeman, from Nottinghamshire, said her family are still waiting on one passport in order to travel to the Spanish coastal town of Tossa Del Mar next month.

Her and her partner Jordan ordered passports for themselves and their two children, one aged four and the other 9 months old, at the start of March.

At the time, the Passport Office recommended a wait time of between three and five weeks – meaning the couple had given themselves plenty of time.

They have since received three out of four passports, but are still awaiting the travel document for their youngest child.

Desperate to go on holiday, the couple say they shelled out an extra £100 in order to ‘fast track’ the passport application with the hope of receiving it within a week.

But with the days ticking down to their flight, they are still yet to receive the travel document.

Hotel worker Ellie, 26, who also missed out on a trip to Corfu in May last year due to Covid restrictions, said: ‘It’s been an absolute nightmare.

‘And it’s the hope that’s making it worse. I would rather they just say it won’t be here, because we have to make plans.

‘I’ve seen some people getting there’s 48 hours before – which is fine if it’s a stag weekend abroad, but it’s hard if you have children because there is lots of planning involved.’

Ellie’s partner Jordan, 27, who works in customer services, said the couple face losing all of their money as a result of the passport delays – because it is not covered on travel insurance.

‘We’ve been left in limbo,’ he said. ‘We’ve gone without a lot of extras to save up just to go on holiday as a family

‘If they had just told us a few weeks ago we might have been able to make changes to our booking but this close to the travel date it is non-refundable. So we are going to lose that £1,200 if we can’t go.’

One photographer also told MailOnline how she faced losing £3,000 worth of business because of the issue.

Kerri Cuthbert, who runs a photography business, Rockford Studio, in Devon, said she ordered a new passport in September after her previous passport expired.

But she says she is yet to receive the travel document – forcing her to cancel a wedding job in Bordeaux in June.

She said: ‘It’s now nearly May, and I am due to travel in June, and I have now had to inform the bride and groom at very short notice that they will need to look for a plan B. 

‘It is a huge loss to my already suffering business post-lockdown, of nearly £3,000, along with the time already spent planning with the client. 

‘I renewed my passport back in September when it expired. At first they said it might have been lost and I’ve been toing and froing trying to find out where it is.

‘I only received a message three days ago to say it had turned up. This will have a massive impact on me trying to get my business going again after the pandemic.’ 

Kerri Cuthbert, who runs a photography business, Rockford Studio, in Devon, said she ordered a new passport in September after her previous passport expired

But she says she is yet to receive the travel document - forcing her to cancel a wedding job in Bordeaux in June

Kerri Cuthbert (pictured left and right), who runs a photography business, Rockford Studio, in Devon, said she ordered a new passport in September after her previous passport expired. But she says she is yet to receive the travel document – forcing her to cancel a wedding job in Bordeaux in June.

It comes as today Kevin Foster, the immigration minister, warned of ‘unprecedented demand’ for new passports, which is putting severe strain on the system. 

According to the Times, MPs have accused the Passport Office of presiding over an ‘absolute shambles’ with the ten-week target for processing passport applications being routinely breached. 

The Passport Office claims the backlog was caused by Britons delaying their applications during the pandemic – but MPs claim the issue was entirely ‘foreseeable’. 

They have also shared stories of constituents being lied to about the progress of their applications, among other issues. 

Some say that even after approval, they have had to wait months for their passports to be delivered – raising questions about the courier firm TNT which has a £77million contract to deliver documents. 

Stuart McDonald, the SNP’s home affairs spokesman, said: ‘All our constituents are having to cancel holidays, miss funerals, rearrange visits, with even a new ten-week target routinely being failed. 

‘What will be done to avoid this predictable mess getting worse? And can we be assured that the ten-week target will not be lengthened further as we approach the summer?’ 

Immigration minister Foster replied: ‘We dealt with a million passport applications last month alone. To put that into context, we usually deal with seven million in a whole year.’ 

An HM Passport Office spokesman said: ‘We urge people who need a new passport to apply for one as soon as possible and we do offer urgent services for applicants who need a passport more quickly.’

Meanwhile, Britons are facing further travel misery, with industry chiefs warning holidaymakers hoping to fly abroad at any time this year to brace for 12 months of travel hell due to unprecedented airline staff shortages caused by Covid self-isolation and mass layoffs during the pandemic.

Experts said that airlines ‘are simply unable to cope with that demand due to a lack of resources’ and warned that the ‘nightmare’ disruption – of the sort seen over Easter, where hundreds of flights were cancelled by airlines including British Airways and easyJet – could last all year.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds up one of the new passports on a flight to Newcastle Airport on the day the UK left the EU

Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds up one of the new passports on a flight to Newcastle Airport on the day the UK left the EU

MPs have accused the Passport Office of presiding over an 'absolute shambles' with the ten-week target for processing passport applications being routinely breached

MPs have accused the Passport Office of presiding over an ‘absolute shambles’ with the ten-week target for processing passport applications being routinely breached

BA has axed hundreds of flights up on some routes to the US and the Far East until September, affecting thousands of travellers after it had already cancelled more than 1,000 flights in little more than three weeks.

Routes affected have included from London to Berlin, Dublin, Geneva, Paris, Stockholm, Athens and Prague.   

There are fears that other carriers could also be hit with issues after easyJet cancelled hundreds of flights over Easter. 

Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, told Times Radio that airlines had underestimated demand.

Kully Sandhu, managing director of Aviation Recruitment Network, told the Express: ‘In my opinion, it could be up to 12 months before we see staffing at airports back to pre-pandemic levels. Recruitment for people at airports takes longer than roles elsewhere because of necessary, additional security and background checks.

‘Routine recruitment campaigns ground to halt during the pandemic and have been slow to start again as international travel has had a number of restrictions on it until recently. That means the recruitment pipeline was cut off and needs to be re-established.

George Morgan-Grenville, chief executive of Red Savannah Luxury Travel

Kully Sandhu, managing director of Aviation Recruitment Network

Left, George Morgan-Grenville, chief executive of Red Savannah Luxury Travel. Right, Kully Sandhu, managing director of Aviation Recruitment Network. Both are warning of further travel disruption this year

‘Aviation has lost its appeal, not only for returners but also for people who have never worked in an airport environment before.’

George Morgan-Grenville, chief executive of Red Savannah Luxury Travel, added: ‘It is an unfortunate perfect storm and airlines and airports are trying to ramp up again after the pandemic.

‘The travel industry is not an industry that can be turned on and then off again and it was inevitable it was going to take time. My own feeling is I don’t think we are going to see a problem-free summer by any stretch of the imagination. If it is as bad as it has been purported to be, I think you will get a lot of very upset people.’

The transport chaos over Easter saw flights to destinations into Europe and the US cancelled by BA and easyJet as they were hit by Covid absences, lack of staff and a surge in demand for travel as restrictions were lifted.

Industry experts have also pointed the finger at security checks for issues with staff numbers, with vetting for new staff taking up to twice as long as the 14 weeks it is supposed to. They also believe that loss of thousands of experienced staff who were laid off during the pandemic has had an impact, with many not returning after finding jobs elsewhere.

BA boss Sean Doyle originally told staff in an internal message that flights would be cancelled until the end of next month, partly due to staff shortages.

At the World Travel and Tourism Council’s summit in Manila in the Philippines, Paul Charles, of travel consultancy The PC Agency, suggested disruption could last many months.

‘Covid travel restrictions have brought about a destruction of talent through job losses,’ he said.

He also told the Telegraph: ‘In the short-term you have got Covid [absence] which is becoming less of an issue, but in the longer term, there are still complications over recruiting enough staff.

‘BA is only recruiting staff who already have security passes. The airline’s planners obviously believe there is a maximum number of people they feel they will recruit, therefore it has to cut back on frequency now based on its expected level of recruitment.

‘It is readjusting in order to give as much notice as it can before it’s inevitable that they have to cancel those flights anyway. It is responding to concerns expressed by their customers and Government ministers about the lack of notice given to consumers.’

More than 1,140 flights were grounded at Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester and Birmingham during the Easter getaway – with EasyJet and British Airways both cutting 60 and 98 flights respectively in a single day.

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