Visa, baggage backlogs hit travellers

JKIA

A Kenya Airways ground crew checks in passengers at the JKIA on August 1, 2020. 

Photo credit: Simon Maina | AFP

Travellers seeking to go to the US, Canada, UK and other European countries are facing travel inconveniences following very long delays in visa processing, compounded by airport chaos in top EU passenger connection points.

The delays have inconvenienced thousands of individuals who were seeking to travel to those countries for business, leisure and education as they now have to wait for months longer to get their visas.

UK High Commissioner to Kenya Jane Marriott on Saturday acknowledged deep visa application delays, terming it ‘a global challenge’ due to a backlog from unprocessed documents during the Covid-19 pandemic disruptions.

“There is a huge backlog as a result of visa applications during Covid-19 that wasn’t processed (and) the various global issues and crises that are going on at the moment, but also an unprecedented demand for visas,” she said.

Ms Marriott said unprecedented demand for travel has also worsened the situation, giving an example where the visa applications from students who have applied to study in the UK have doubled to 600,000 applications this year, up from 300,000 in 2019.

Immigration Services

The delays in visa processing are also being witnessed in the US, with Bloomberg in March reporting that the estimated wait time for a work permit had risen to eight to 12 months, up from about three months in 2020, quoting data from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Data from the USCIS shows that while there were 637,800 pending visa applications to the US in the fourth quarter of 2019, this number rose sharply 1.5 million in the same quarter last year, affecting immigrants and other persons seeking to travel to the US.

Ms Marriott has advised individuals wishing to travel to the UK to apply at least six weeks in advance even as the UK has frozen its priority visa service for new work, study, and family visa applications.

“If you are looking to go to the UK whether that’s to study, or in business or for tourism, please do apply six weeks in advance. Also due to the pressure on the service, we are not able to offer our priority visa service,” she said.

“So if you’re a business person used to getting your visa in five days, I’m really sorry but it’s going to take six weeks.” 

This comes at a time passengers are currently being inconvenienced by delays in transfers of their checked-in belongings including bags and suitcases at main European airports.

There have been significant baggage system failures at London’s main Heathrow Airport since last weekend which has been blamed for a huge pile-up of luggage at the airport’s Terminal 2 since last Friday.

Some passengers complained of two-hour waits, while others were left without luggage at all and had to fly without their bags.

Flights from Schiphol, Amsterdam and other European airports are also facing a challenge with processing bags due to a shortage of workers.

This has affected Kenya Airways and other airlines servicing key routes in Europe amid piling frustrations by thousands of travellers.

Flights

“This has affected the processing of baggage in time to reach flights before they depart and unfortunately several customers’ bags have been delayed. It has also affected most airlines and the baggage transfers from other airlines to Kenya Airways,” KQ’s chief commercial and customer officer Julius Thairu said.

UK airports have been hit by a series of travel disruptions since the onset of the peak summer travel season amid a heavy shortage of workers.

Some airlines in Britain such as TUI and EasyJet have even taken drastic steps and cancelled dozens of flights a week to improve customer service and reliability on remaining routes.

EasyJet has even removed some aircraft seats to cut crew sizes.

But the airport chaos is not just in the UK alone. Scenes of chaos have been witnessed at some European airports such as Dublin, Ireland, and Schiphol, Amsterdam, over the last week as people have started to venture abroad, sparked by a shortage of bag handlers, security and airline staff that led to huge queues, missed flights and furious customers.

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