Long queues for passport control checks at UK airports are a fact of life but are still an “unacceptable” part of travel, Stansted Airport bosses say.
Delays of several hours were experienced by hundreds of passengers at the Essex airport on Friday night.
The airport has said this was not a one-off happening, and queues at immigration were an “ongoing problem”.
Home Secretary Theresa May said the Stansted issue would be looked at, but Heathrow Airport was the “key” focus.
“We will deal with these issues,” she said, adding that staff were being redeployed to ensure checkpoints were manned when needed.
Immigration Minister Damian Green pledged action and said he accepted that some passengers had been forced to stand in line for up to 90 minutes, in breach of UK Border Force targets.
The UK Border Force said it deployed staff to meet demand but would not compromise on security.
Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said: “So much for the prime minister ordering Theresa May to get a grip last week.
“The chaos at our borders is clearly spreading to port after port, damaging our global reputation and our security too.
The crowd was insane, there were 500 people crammed, trying to get through”
“This is becoming a circus, with staff being shunted from port to port to try and keep up because they cut so many in the first place without a back-up plan.
“She needs to get a grip, sort out unacceptable delays at our borders and make sure there are enough officers available at all our ports to maintain security too.”
A Border Force spokesperson said: “We flexibly deploy staff to meet demand, meaning that the vast majority of passengers pass through immigration controls quickly.
“We will not compromise border security but work closely with airport operators to keep delays to a minimum.”
A spokesman for the airport, owned by BAA, said: “The majority of passengers arriving at Stansted pass through border controls quickly and securely.
“However, at peak times, and similar to many other UK airports, immigration queues can be unacceptably long.
“We recognise that maintaining strong border security is a priority but we also want to see sufficient resources available to meet passenger demand and keep delays to a minimum at the busiest times.
“Our customer service teams work closely with the UK Border Force to help manage queues and assist passengers at peak times but we believe further action is needed to address the issue as a matter of urgency.
“We will be talking to the UK Border Force about the queues and the reasons behind them.”
Beth Cooper, from Ightham, near Sevenoaks, Kent, was delayed by about 45 minutes as she returned to the UK from a trip to Cork, in Ireland.
She said: “It really wasn’t pleasant. It was very uncomfortable.
“It just felt really chaotic and badly organised. There were a lot of unhappy people there.”
Another passenger, Sophie Elliott, from Norwich, said: “When we finally got to the passport control area, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The crowd was insane, there were 500 people crammed, trying to get through.
“There were four immigration officials processing the queue and three of the desks were empty. There was no explanation of any sort, apart from the occasional announcement to thank us for our co-operation.
“It took nearly two hours to get through. We were the lucky ones. There were planes landing after us and yet more people flooding into the passport control area.
“There was no control over it, people were getting so annoyed.
“I’ve done this so many times – normally it takes 10 minutes to half an hour. I’ve never experienced anything like this.”
BBC © 2012