The AA branded Folkestone the new “hotspot of holiday hell”, after two days of disruption at Dover saw thousands stuck in traffic jams as they awaited the beginning of their summer getaway.
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 for people heading towards Dover or Eurotunnel.
Eurotunnel said its service at Folkestone was delayed, with processing time from check-in to boarding estimated to be about 90 minutes.
Jack Cousens, head of roads policy for the AA, said Eurotunnel-bound motorists are 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.”
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.”
Queues at the Port of Dover were reduced to an hour on Sunday, in contrast to scenes of bumper-to-bumper traffic which caused travel chaos in the area since Friday.
Extra post-Brexit border checks and French authorities’ understaffing of checkpoints in Dover have been blamed for the hold-ups.
More than 6,000 tourist cars were expected at the port on Sunday, as people continue their summer trips this weekend after most schools in England and Wales broke up for the holidays.
The Port of Dover said it had assisted more than 10,800 passengers on their way by mid-morning on Sunday.
A spokesman for the port said: “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 at Dover had improved.
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”.
About 72,000 passengers – more than 200 miles of tourist and freight traffic combined – had been processed across 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”, and 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”.
French politician Pierre-Henri Dumont, Republican MP for Calais, has blamed delays on the UK’s exit from the EU but Foreign Secretary and 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”.