Drivers travelling to France on Eurotunnel faced severe delays on Sunday as the travel “chaos” in Kent for people trying to reach the continent continued.
The AA branded Folkestone the new "hotspot of holiday hell" as it became the epicentre of problems for people trying to reach the continent from the UK after two days of disruption at Dover saw thousands stuck in traffic jams as they awaited the beginning of their summer getaway.
While queues at the Port of Dover are reportedly down to just an hour on Sunday after Border and ferry staff worked “through the night” to clear “huge volumes of tourist and freight traffic” problems, major issues continued at the Channel Tunnel at Folkestone.
With the M20 coastbound still closed to non-freight traffic as part of Operation Brock to manage traffic, National Highways warned on Sunday of "severe delays" in Kent.
Jack Cousens, head of roads policy for the AA, said Eurotunnel-bound motorists were trying to find alternative routes and warned that "many are waiting for several hours" to get to the terminal.
He said: "Dover has now recovered, but Folkestone has become the hotspot of holiday hell.
"Drivers are now trying to find alternative routes down to the Eurotunnel terminal at J11a on the M20.
"Holidaymakers are trying to use the M2 and then find ways to drop down into the A20 and the terminal via the back roads.
"Drivers heading to Folkestone need to be prepared. We have seen that many are waiting for several hours before they get to the terminal, so all the pre-journey vehicle checks are key along with carrying plenty of food, water and entertainment for younger travellers."
The AA said long waits at Folkestone had "fallen considerably" by late afternoon but raised concerns that such congestion could be repeated on other weekends this summer.
Motorists were stuck in huge traffic jams for hours on Sunday trying to reach the Eurotunnel.
One Twitter user described waiting in queues for more than five and a half hours to get on a train.
Can we add Folkestone Eurotunnel to Dover back ups? Been here since 7 a.m. some 5 1/2 hours and still waiting to board a train!— Euge (@EugeIrl) July 24, 2022
While the Evening Standard’s Transport Editor Ross Lydall, who was stuck in the queues, said there was “total misery” for those stuck in their cars trying to reach the continent, with the coastguard handing out water to stop people dehydrating in the hot weather, as they crawled in jams for hours.
He said it had taken around five hours to make it onto the train since hitting queues on Sunday morning.He said: “It’s nearly 3pm and we’re finally on the train. We left London at around 8am and we arrived on the outskirts of the Folkestone depot for the shuttle for the Eurotunnel at around 10am.
“It took a good two to three hours to actually get on site. Then a couple hours to get through the various passport controls. Interestingly there were only six of the ten drive thru booths on the French side of customs open, so that caused a lot of the tailback.
“Finally we’re here and looking forward to our holiday. I’ve used Eurotunnel many times before and have never known anything like this.”
While one man, who was travelling with his wife and two children on Sunday by Eurotunnel, said it was a "stressful" experience being stuck for eight hours in the car before boarding a train.
The man, who gave his name only as Eugene, 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.
The 53-year-old said: "Have made this journey a number of times pre-pandemic and pre-Brexit. No such issues apart from occasional minor delay. A shame that this has occurred."
National Highways warned holidaymakers travelling to France to expect severe delays in Kent on Sunday. A critical incident was still in place across Kent on Sunday, alongside Operation Brock, with the AA claiming the worst congestion is now around the Eurotunnel terminal at Folkestone.
The M20 motorway to the south coast is closed to cars from Maidstone to Folkestone because of Operation Brock, which sees lorries park on the road.
With the motorway shut, car drivers are being directed on to smaller roads which get jammed and cause miles of tailbacks.
Two of the main roads towards the Eurotunnel – the A259 and A260 – were both gridlocked by 10am on Sunday as thousands of passengers headed for France.
Mr Cousens said Folkestone would be the focus of disruption on Sunday due to the aftermath of the “bumper-to-bumper” chaos in Dover.
Eurotunnel warned of a delayed service, with processing time at Folkestone on Sunday morning from check-in to boarding estimated to be around 90 minutes - but travellers say the major delays are impacting travellers before they arrive at check-in.
John Keefe, director of public affairs for Eurotunnel, said he was confident the “bit we manage” - from check-in to departure - was working.
“The roads outside are beyond our remit. We’re responsible for managing the service - it’s the only place we have any responsibility, any authority,” he said.
People reported sleeping in their cars overnight as delays reached an average of about six hours on Saturday, although some waited much longer.
Andrew Dyer-Smith and his family, who are heading to France for their summer holiday, spent 21 hours in traffic on roads around Folkestone. “We arrived at Folkestone at 9am yesterday morning for a train at 10.30 and then have been slowly crawling along for the last 21-plus hours,” he told the BBC.
A spokesman for Dover said on Sunday morning, as the situation improved there after two days of misery for travellers that"French border is fully manned and everything is flowing normally.
"There will be queues but short term (less than 60 minutes) during the day."
Mark Simmonds, director of policy and external affairs at the British Ports Association, said he was glad to hear the situation had improved there.
He told BBC Breakfast: "We're pleased to hear that things are going a little bit better today. The queues are down this morning.
"The booths are fully staffed and we're told that the port expects those booths to be fully staffed throughout the summer."
Port authorities said work undertaken by them and their partners, "including strong support from French border colleagues", to clear traffic this weekend demonstrates that the Port of Dover's "summer plan will work for the rest of the holiday period".
The delays at Dover led to clashes between French and UK officials.
The UK government said French authorities had failed to find enough border staff to check passports, demanding they resolve the “terrible situation”.
But French Transport Minister Clement Beaune hit back, saying France was not responsible for the additional border checks brought on by Brexit.
Tory leadership hopeful Liz Truss has insisted disruption at the port was the fault of French authorities for not staffing the border properly.
She spoke with French foreign minister Catherine Colonna on Saturday, with the latter stating that the pair had a "good talk".
Ms Colonna added: "We welcomed the co-operation between our competent technical services to reduce the delays. Need also to improve the facilities of the port of Dover."
Passengers embarking on cross-Channel sailings from Dover must pass through French border checks before they can board a ferry.
Mr Simmonds said Brexit "certainly is contributing" to the situation, with "a harder border than there was before".
Natalie Chapman, from haulier group Logistics UK, echoed concerns about French staff numbers and Brexit changes.
Elsewhere on the roads, the AA said traffic appeared to be flowing well on Sunday "bar some isolated pockets of congestion".
A Government spokesperson said:“A shortage of French border control staff, along with a serious accident on the M20 and exceptionally high numbers of people travelling this weekend, led to roads in Kent becoming extremely busy.
“We have worked closely with French authorities who deployed more staff to the border which has significantly reduced congestion, especially around Dover, though congestion remains challenging around Folkestone. We will continue work with the relevant authorities and operators to minimise disruption and provide on the ground support.
“While congestion in Kent is beginning to ease, we recommend that passengers check the latest advice from their operators before travelling and ensure they have enough water and food provisions with them.“