BRITS were plunged into travel chaos today after a “critical incident” was declared at Dover, huge queues built at airports and protesters crippled motorways across the country.
Kent’s port of Dover warned of “major disruption” this morning as thousands of holidaymakers were told to arrive SIX HOURS early for ferry queues lasting up to five hours.
Cops also stressed back-to-back traffic was set to build on the M4, M5, M32 and A38 in what is already set to be the busiest summer getaway in at least eight years.
Manchester Airport saw hundreds of passengers snake around its terminals before 3.30am, while queues for flights piled into Gatwick, Heathrow and Bristol first thing.
It came as strikes at Heathrow were called OFF after hundreds of British Airways staff accepted a new pay rise.
Meanwhile, those hoping to take the ferry reported five-hour queues for border checks, with cars pictured back-to-back for miles outside Dover.
Doug Bannister, the port’s chief executive, said “woefully inadequate” staffing was to blame for the “major disruption”.
He told Sky News: “The cause of it is French immigration controls.
“We’ve been let down this morning despite the planning of the last several months to get ready for this day.
“This is causing major disruption. French border controls are not properly staffed.
“It’s somewhat down to longer than normal transaction times as well, but mainly it’s inadequate personnel numbers.”
The port said in a statement it has made “significant investment” to increase its capacity, and shared traffic volume forecasts “in granular detail with the French authorities”.
But it went on: “Regrettably, the PAF (police aux frontieres) resource has been insufficient and has fallen far short of what is required to ensure a smooth first weekend of the peak summer getaway period.”
Mr Bannister said staff were focused on tackling the “critical bottleneck” around the port today but could not promise the chaos would be gone by Saturday.
The delays mean tourist and freight traffic have been stuck for hours on gridlocked roads in the area.
And P&O Ferries warned passengers to arrive six hours early for their boats.
A notice on the company’s Twitter read: “Please be aware that there is heavy traffic at border control in the port of Dover.
“If you are booked to travel today please allow at least six hours to clear all security checks.”
The warning was little use to those already stuck in gridlock traffic, with one traveller claiming they were moving just “50m per hour”.
They wrote on Twitter: “At this rate it’ll be 34 hours before I get to the port!”
Another described how they have been “waiting five hours and still not in the port”.
Mum Donna Kyriacou told The Sun she had been stick in nose to tail traffic outside Dover since 5am.
The animal rescuer, 51, said drivers were starting to vent their frustration at a single police officer controlling traffic, fearing “it could turn ugly”.
Waiting with her two teen daughters, Christiana and Georgia, she said: “No one knows what’s going on. We’re less than a mile from the Port.
“Locals including P&O staff are stuck in it and having to leave their cars to walk to work.
“I’m starting to feel really claustrophobic and trapped as we’re being told not to leave our cars. And I need a wee.”
‘FOUR HOUR QUEUES’
Turkish lorry driver Muhammet Turker said he had been queuing in his HGV in Dover since 6pm on Thursday and was still waiting to cross the Channel on Friday morning.
He told the PA News agency that other lorries kept cutting in front of him in the queue.
And he added: “I’ve been in something like this before, but this is the worst.”
Meanwhile, gym owner Darren Fuller, whose business is minutes from the Port of Dover said the chaos has forced almost all his customers to cancel sessions.
And one family from Germany was left waiting four-and-a-half hours in their campervan to try and get on a ferry back to Europe from Dover.
It should’ve been a 45 minute journey but it’s taken nearly five hours.
Dad Steffan Harberecht, 41, said: “I got a message in the evening saying to come at least four hours before take-off,” he said, but the family had nonetheless missed their ferry, which was due to leave at midday.
Others were left frustrated after opting to take the ferry in a desperate bid to skip the chaos which has plagued airports in recent weeks.
James Beyer travelled more than 200 miles to Dover from Telford, Shropshire – along with his wife, who asked not to be named, daughter Eira, 12, and son Tarzan, seven.
The mum-of-two said: “We came by ferry because we were worried about issues at the airport.
“We thought this would be easier but it took us six hours to get to Maidstone from Shropshire last night because of all the road closures.
“And then we left Maidstone at 8:30am this morning and it’s 1.15pm now.
“It should’ve been a 45 minute journey but it’s taken nearly five hours.”
Meanwhile foot passengers hoping to get to France from Dover were not being allowed to check in for ferries because Border Control was “overloaded”, travellers at the port were told.
It came as ferry operator P&O Ferries told passengers first thing: “There are currently queues in excess of four hours to reach the border controls.
“Our check-in remains free flowing and once you reach us, we will put you on the first available sailing.
“Please arrive prepared for a prolonged wait. Carry snacks and additional water with you.”
It comes after an image posted on Facebook group Fuel Price Stand Against Tax warned protests would be held “nationwide”, including in Birmingham, Cardiff, Liverpool, London and Manchester.
With most schools in England and Wales breaking up for summer this week, the RAC said an estimated 18.8million trips are planned in the UK between Friday and Monday.
That is the most since the company began tracking summer getaway numbers in 2014.
Analytics company Inrix this morning reported slow traffic on the M5 at junction 22 near Burnham-on-Sea thanks to a demonstration.
Meanwhile, superintendent Tony Blatchford of Avon and Somerset Police urged drivers to consider “alternative travel plans” due to the pump price protests.
He said: “Our protest liaison team has been engaging with the organiser so we can inform the public of the likely disruption and help to minimise it.
“Nevertheless, drivers can expect journey times will likely be longer than normal, especially on motorways, which often tend to be at their busiest at this time of year.
“We advise motorists to consider any alternative travel plans available and ensure they are suitably prepared in case they are delayed.”
The first stage of Friday’s action in the South West will see vehicles travel north on the M5 between Bridgwater and the Almondsbury Interchange from about 8.45am, then east along the M4 and to Junction 1 of the M32.
The convoy is expected to leave the motorway and stop “for a period of time” before completing the same route in reverse, arriving back in Bridgwater “in the early afternoon”, police said.
A second group of protesters is planning to drive slowly to the Shell petrol station in Bristol Road, Bridgwater.
“They are expected to block the forecourt during the morning,” according to police.
We advise motorists to consider any alternative travel plans available and ensure they are suitably prepared in case they are delayed.
Superintendent Tony Blatchford
Fuel price protests on July 4 led to 12 people being arrested on the M4.
Figures from data company Experian show the average price of a litre of petrol on Wednesday was 187.5p, while diesel was 196.1p.
Transport analytics company Inrix believes the M25 – London’s orbital motorway – could see some of the worst jams due to the summer getaway, singling out the stretches between Bromley and the Dartford Crossing; Maple Cross and the M3; and the M23 to the M40.
The A303 near Stonehenge, Wiltshire, the M4 between Cardiff and Newport in south Wales, and the M5 south of Bristol are also likely to see queuing traffic.
There are also likely to be long queues at the Port of Dover again today.
Travellers were forced to queue for up to three hours on Thursday to complete border control and check-in.
On Thursday afternoon, a spokesman for the port said: “As a result of high demand and earlier capacity issues at the border, the port system is working hard to catch up and to get everyone through as quickly as possible.
“Passengers will be placed on the first available sailing and will be away on their holidays shortly.”