Severe delays at Dover continued on Sunday morning after the port declared a critical incident, with some passengers left waiting for up to 14 hours.
The port’s chief executive said on Saturday evening he hoped the issue would be resolved by Sunday morning, adding that ferry operators were “laying on additional sailings overnight to try and accomplish that”.
However, P&O Ferries has warned passengers to expect waits of five to six hours at the port entrance. Coaches have been sent to a “buffer zone” to wait before check-in.
The long delays began on Friday, leading port officials to declare a critical incident.
Strong winds, “lengthy French border processes, and sheer volume” of Easter holiday coach traffic were cited as reasons for the delays.
Tavellers told of their disappointment after being stranded at the port for many hours, describing the situation as “carnage” and “a shambles”.
#PODOVER - We apologise for the wait times for coaches this weekend. We have put on additional sailings overnight to help clear the backlog of traffic. Once coaches reach our check in desks they will be on the next crossing to Calais
— P&O Ferries Updates (@POferriesupdate) April 1, 2023
Port of Dover chief executive Doug Bannister on Saturday apologised for the disruption, and said he hoped the backlog would be cleared “overnight or into [Sunday] morning”.
He told Sky News that while the port had been planning for months for the Easter holidays, it had seen 15 per cent more coaches than it had prepared for, while poor weather conditions on Friday had exacerbated the issue.
“The ferry operators are laying on additional sailings overnight to try and accomplish that, so hopefully by about midday tomorrow we’ll be back to normal operations.”
Dafydd Francis, a PE teacher from Seven Sisters in south Wales, was left waiting in traffic for more than 14 hours.
Mr Francis, who was travelling to Austria with 14 children and 18 other adults, said the experience left him “shell-shocked”.
His group arrived at the port at 11pm on Friday and were still waiting to board a ferry on Saturday lunchtime.
“(I’ve) never seen anything like this,” said Mr Francis, 49. “We will arrive at the resort 14 hours late if we are lucky…I have organised various trips since 1998 for school and family and friends, approximately 50 trips. We will fly next time.”
Rosie Pearson, who was stuck at the Port of Dover for 16 hours from Friday to Saturday, described the situation as “carnage”.
The 50-year-old was travelling with her family from Essex to the French Alps on an overnight bus.
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 the 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.
“[We are] very tired but people are resigned now and relieved to be en route…Shocking that something this chaotic can happen.”
P&O Ferries has also apologised for the wait times for coaches sailing from Dover, while DFDS said it is expecting a busy weekend and advised passengers to allow extra time to complete border and check-in controls.
P&O Ferries tweeted on Saturday that it was providing refreshments to coach passengers waiting at the cruise terminal and working on getting food and drink to passengers waiting in the buffer zone at the entrance to the port.
BREAKING: Port of Dover chief executive Doug Bannister tells Sky News coach traffic is being processed smoothly and the backlog is being cleared.
Read more: https://t.co/jeyT5eq3c8
📺 Sky 501, Virgin 602, Freeview 233 and YouTube pic.twitter.com/JN9R43v3LJ
— Sky News (@SkyNews) April 1, 2023
The Port of Dover said in a statement on Saturday: “The Port of Dover is deeply frustrated by last night’s and this morning’s situation and particularly so on behalf of all the ferry operators’ coach passengers who have had to endure such a long wait at the port.
“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.”
Sir Keir Starmer urged the Government to “get a grip” of the situation at Dover.
“I really feel for people trying to get through Dover. There will have been families who have booked holidays and now they are frustrated yet again and I think the nature of the frustration will be ‘not again’,” he said.
“This is not the first time there have been problems at Dover. The Government needs to get a grip of this.
“You can’t have every summer holiday, every Easter holiday, the same old problem. And so the Government needs to get a grip on this and actually help people out in who are just trying to get away for a few days holiday.”
A Government spokesperson said: “The UK Government remains in close contact with ferry operators, the French authorities, and the Kent Resilience Forum, regarding delays at the Port of Dover.
“The port has advised that it remains busy, but the situation has improved significantly since yesterday, with coaches being processed at a much quicker rate.
“We recommend passengers check the latest advice from their operators before travelling.”
DFDS Seaways announced on Twitter just after 9pm that the wait time for coaches was approximately seven hours from arrival at the port.
A spokesperson for the operator said: “The queues at Dover today have been as a result of bad weather causing delays to sailings, combined with high volumes of traffic, and particularly coach groups.
“DFDS is working to keep passengers up to date via its website and social media channels, and is transporting passengers on the next available sailing once they have checked in.
“It has also been working with coach operators to speed up the check in process for coach passengers.”
Planned journeys by ferry have risen by 25 per cent compared to this time last year, Brittany Ferries said.
Eurotunnel also said its bookings were “significantly” up on last Easter, with yesterday the busiest day of the year as schools broke up.
On the roads, the AA has predicted up to 15 million car trips a day will be made this weekend, with an increase on last year’s numbers expected if warmer weather returns
Meanwhile, travel plans for thousands of Britons have been plunged into turmoil by strikes by French air traffic controllers and Heathrow Airport security staff.
Members of the Unite union, including security officers at London Heathrow Terminal 5 and campus security guards who check cargo entering the airport, walked out yesterday in a dispute over pay.
Scores of flights have been cancelled as a result of the industrial action, which involves 1,400 staff members and will last until Easter Sunday on April 9.
Heathrow has said that it is implementing “contingency plans” and drafting 1,000 extra staff into terminals to cope with the impact of the strikes.