Passengers stuck in traffic for up to 16 hours amid Dover travel chaos
Student Regan Barrett (left) and parent David Martin (right) were both stuck in the gridlocked traffic for hours, as Ian Woods reports from Dover
A student on a university coach trip was advised by Dover port staff that it would take him around 21 hours to cross the channel amid the Easter getaway chaos.
The port was forced to declare a critical incident on Friday night and on Saturday, it warned that the “significant delays” persisted, as some experienced queues of up to 16 hours while waiting to board ferries.
Extra ferry sailings will run through the night on Saturday as the port struggles to clear the backlog, with coaches still delayed by around 10 hours.
Port officials earlier said they were "incredibly frustrated" and that ferry operators taking additional coach bookings had impacted operations, as well as "lengthy French border processes" and the weather.
Regan Barrett told ITV News that he and a coach-load of 51 other students missed their booked ferry earlier due to the delays.
Mr Barrett, who is headed on holiday to Croatia, said: "When we first got to Dover they said it would be like 21 hours [to cross the Channel] but that it all depends on how long it takes to get through.
"There’s so many people trying to get over - it’s bumper to bumper.”
Mr Barrett said being stuck in traffic for over four hours meant he was in need of a substantial meal.
"We've just got crisps and chocolate - our own snacks,” he said.
As of Saturday evening, the traffic began to ease as coaches were diverted and held off site. The coaches are only allowed to get down to the port when there is capacity.
However, this means the delays will continue and will face at least an hour's wait once they get to passport control.
Chief Executive of Port of Dover, Doug Bannister, told ITV News: “We actually had 15% more coach volume than we had planned.
"For every passenger going into the European Union, their passports need to be swiped and stamped. In a car-load of, say, four people that will take a little while but in a coach where you might have 60, may be up to 80 on some of the bigger ones, that’s just going to take a long time.”
P&O Ferries also apologised for the wait times for coaches sailing from Dover, while DFDS Ferries said it is expecting a busy weekend and advised passengers to allow extra time to complete border and check-in controls.
Rosie Pearson, who was stuck at the Port of Dover for 16 hours from Friday to Saturday described the situation as “carnage”.
The environmental campaigner is travelling to Val d’Isere in the French Alps with her family 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 delays in Dover.
“The whole thing was a shambles… Not a single bit of communication,” she 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. My children’s school has a ski trip this week (they are not on it, with us instead) and their bus was turned away last night – they had to sleep at a service station and come back this morning.”
David Martin, who was stuck in the tailback with his son and approximately 30 other young footballers, called the hold-up "frustrating".
"People on the ground have been fairly helpful, they’ve been on the coach to check if everyone's okay," he told ITV News.
"But they're very much not in the know and they’re clear that it's not in their hands its all clearing the other side that's the problem."
The team Mr Martin is supervising - North London Hawks' under 13 squad - have two fixtures with local teams in Amsterdam.
"We’ve got matches tomorrow and Monday. Hopefully we still get there for the first match," Mr Martin said.
A statement from the port said: “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.” 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.”
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DFDS announced on Twitter just after 9pm on Friday that the wait time for coaches was approximately seven hours from arrival at the port. 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."
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.”