Eurotunnel delays and queues at Dover: What are your rights, and how long will disruption last?

Cars queue at the check-in at the Port of Dover in Kent as many families embarked on getaways. Credit: PA

Words by ITV News Multimedia Producer Suzanne Elliott

For many, summer getaways have been marred by lengthy queues at the Eurotunnel in Folkestone and at the port of Dover.

Motorways in parts of Kent became carparks as thousands of freight lorries and holidaymakers queued to get across the Channel.

Disruption at Dover had eased by Sunday morning but it was still taking an hour for passengers to clear French passport control on Monday. Lengthy delays on approach to the Eurotunnel had reduced by Monday although current processing time from check-in to boarding was around 90 mins.

Travel experts, motoring organisations and local authorities warn this is not the last we will see of delays this summer.

What is causing the delays, what are your rights if you get caught up in them and how long will disruption last?

What is causing the delays?

Passengers embarking on cross-Channel sailings from Dover must pass through French border checks before they can board a ferry, and there has been an Anglo-French blame game over the hold-ups.

The finger has been pointed at extra post-Brexit border checks and French authorities’ understaffing of checkpoints in Dover.

The UK government has insisted changes to border control measures after Brexit did not have a “significant role” in the disruption at Dover, reiterating its stance that problems occurred because French authorities did not provide enough border officials on Friday during what was a peak period of travel.

Some 72,000 passengers - more than 200 miles of tourist and freight traffic combined - had been processed by Sunday morning in Dover. Credit: PA

But the extra Brexit paperwork is likely to be having a significant impact on what would already be a busy period as heavy freight traffic combined with the start of the school summer holidays.

Travel expert Simon Calder told ITV's GMB that having voted to leave the EU, the UK is a third-party country, which means, where once passengers' passports would get - at most - a cursory glance, now French officials must ask to see your passport.

"They have to stamp it and they are supposed to check that you haven't had too many journeys to the European Union - 90 days in any 100 days. They need to ask you whether or not you've got enough money for your stay, whether you've got a return ticket. These are all rules that we helped devise and build in," he said.

How long will the congestion last?

There are fears we will see a repeat of these delays over the summer - and perhaps beyond.

Toby Howe, senior highways manager at Kent County Council said that next weekend - the second busiest getaway weekend of the summer holidays. - is likely to be “very busy”.

“Basically it’s a very vulnerable situation, it takes very little to cause further issues,” he added.

Jack Cousens, head of roads policy for the AA, said that while the hold-ups had eased, they were "concerned that we could be in for a repeat of this congestion across the summer".“Drivers due to use both Dover and Folkestone to head into Europe on Fridays, Saturdays and Sunday mornings between now and the reopening of schools may see a repetition of these delays across the summer,” he said.

The RAC called for investment in extra lorry parking with facilities for drivers instead of relying on what it branded an “inadequate solution of turning a motorway into a lorry park”.

Traffic queuing on the M20 near Folkestone in Kent on Friday Credit: PA

This was echoed by Mark Simmonds, director of policy and external affairs at the British Ports Association, who said the current approach is perhaps not a long-term solution to problems in the area.

Meanwhile, biometric checks borders due to be brought in next May could make next summer even worse.

Port of Dover chief executive Doug Bannister has previously spoken of worries that new biometric checks at the border could see people having to exit their vehicles to undergo the checks – something that could cause massive delays in the Kent port.

A government spokesperson said: “The EU is planning to introduce new Entry/Exit system checks for non-EEA passengers at the border.

“We understand the concerns of the sector and are working with port authorities, operators and the French government to ensure there is minimal disruption, particularly where checks are conducted by French officers prior to departure as is the case at Dover."

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What are your rights if you are delayed?

Eurotunnel said if passengers turn up late for a booked departure, they will get you on the next available service.

P&O Ferries said it would put passengers on the next available sailing if they missed their boat, and said customers did not need to call to amend their booking. 

Anyone travelling to Folkestone or Dover was encouraged to take plenty of breaks on the way and ensure you have enough food and drink.As the shuttle and the ferries are running well, they are under no obligation to compensate passengers. In the event of a delay with sailings or crossings then customers would have a claim.

This means that while ferries are still running as scheduled from Dover, passengers who choose to book a crossing from an alternative port will not be entitled to any money back on their ticket.

“If a ferry is cancelled or delayed by more than 90 minutes, customers should be offered the choice between a refund or the next available sailing.

"But if you find yourself caught up in the gridlock and miss your crossing, P&O, DFDS and Eurotunnel are all putting passengers on the next available service at no extra cost," Guy Hobbs, Editor of Which? Travel, said.

Mr Hobbs adds may be able to get money back on your insurance. "You won't get any additional compensation for delays that are outside the ferry operators' control, but travel insurance may cover you for extra expenses, for example needing to book new accommodation.

"Check your policy wording carefully so you understand any limitations to cover."