By Sunday morning, disruption that saw thousands stuck in traffic jams had eased in Dover – while the motoring organisation branded Folkestone the new “hotspot of holiday hell” as people faced delays on approach to the Eurotunnel.
Although major delays had “fallen considerably” by late afternoon, according to the AA, fears have been roused that similar congestion could be repeated on into the summer.
Jack Cousens, head of roads policy for the AA, said: “This has been an incredible weekend of traffic jams into Dover and Folkestone, and holidaymakers will have been frustrated and angry at the delays.
“Good progress has been made throughout the day and those waiting for more than five hours before reaching the check-in desk has fallen considerably. We hope that by tonight we should be back to usual traffic levels.
“However, we are 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.”
The Port of Dover maintains a confident outlook for the holidays after it cleared congestion this weekend, saying it demonstrates that its “summer plan will work for the rest of the holiday period”.
The AA, however, insists “significant progress” would be needed to help reduce traffic in the weeks ahead.
Since the M20 coastbound closed to non-freight traffic as part of Operation Brock to manage congestion, National Highways warned on Sunday of “severe delays” in Kent for people heading towards Dover or the Eurotunnel.
One man travelling with his wife and children by Eurotunnel, who identified himself only as Eugene, said it was a “stressful” experience being stuck for eight hours in the car before boarding a train.
He told the PA news agency that, while travelling to France by car suits his family, he would rethink it if every journey was likely to involve such major delays.
“Have made this journey a number of times pre-pandemic and pre-Brexit,” he said. “No such issues apart from occasional minor delay. A shame that this has occurred.”
Queues at the Port of Dover were reduced to around an hour on Sunday, while a spokesperson for the port said the French border was “fully manned and everything is flowing normally”.
The blame for the delays has been laid at the door of extra post-Brexit border checks and French authorities’ understaffing of checkpoints in Dover.
But the government continues to insist that changes to border control measures after Brexit did not have a “significant role” in the disruption at the major port.
Ministers instead say that the problems occurred because French authorities did not provide enough border officials on Friday during what was a peak period of travel.
A government spokesperson said: “We will continue to work with the relevant authorities and operators to minimise disruption and provide on-the-ground support.”
It is estimated that 72,000 passengers – the equivalent to more than 200 miles of holidaymaker and freight traffic – had been processed through the weekend up until Sunday morning.
Port chief executive Doug Bannister thanked travellers and Dover residents for their understanding during what he described as a “challenging period”.
Mr Bannister said he was “incredibly grateful to everyone who has turned this situation around, from the French and UK authorities to our ferry operators, Kent partners and our own port staff”.
Mark Simmonds, director of policy and external affairs at the British Ports Association, said he was glad to hear the situation at Dover had improved.
“We’re told that the port expects those booths to be fully staffed throughout the summer,” he told BBC Breakfast.
Elsewhere on the roads, the AA said traffic appeared to be flowing well on Sunday “bar some isolated pockets of congestion”.