Drivers heading to France have been told to expect queues of up to three hours after the Port of Dover declared a critical incident last night.
The port said it was “deeply frustrated” over the delays, which it said were caused by “lengthy French border processes and sheer volume” as people head abroad for the Easter holidays.
In a statement on Saturday morning, a spokesman for the port said coach waiting times were “improving” and were now one to two hours, while tourist cars had begun “getting through OK” and drivers could now expect 60-minute waits.
However, ferry firm DFDS said shortly before midday that both coach and car traffic at Dover was still “very busy” and that passengers should expect wait times “of up 120 minutes to pass through controls and check-in”.
P&O Ferries also cited two to three-hour wait times for coaches queuing to cross the Channel this morning. The ferry firm apologised to customers, saying: “We know this isn’t the ideal start to your trip but our teams are ready to welcome you onboard once checked in.”
Coach passengers were still waiting to cross the Channel this morning having parked at the port overnight, including children on school trips and families hoping to travel to France.
One woman posted on Twitter: “My children have been sat on their school coach overnight and are still awaiting news from P&O on when they can move from the buffer zone!”
Another wrote: “My daughter has been in a queue since midnight. Still no idea when the coach will be allowed to board.”
It comes after the Port of Dover declared a critical incident last night after high levels of traffic caused lengthy delays for coach passengers.
The port said additional coach bookings taken by ferry operators for the Easter holidays had impacted operations.
“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,” it said in a statement.
“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.”
The port said food and drink has been provided to coach passengers in the queues, adding: “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, saying it was “not the first time there have been problems 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.
“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.”
Natalie Elphicke, the Tory MP for Dover, blamed French border problems for the delays as she apologised to constituents for a “night of noisy lorries”.
She wrote on Twitter: “Incredibly disappointing to see French border control problems once again adding to traffic mayhem just as families are trying to get away for the Easter holidays.
“There has been huge disruption for Dover’s Aycliffe residents today too – facing a night of noisy lorries queuing outside their homes yet again.”