Travellers have been blocked from boarding flights and ferries for trips abroad after a four-hour outage of England’s NHS app left people unable to access a Covid pass to prove their vaccine status.
Hundreds tried to download information that many countries require before departure – including a QR code and details about the jabs they have had – but were told to “try again later”, sparking chaos and fury.
The app and nhs.uk website began malfunctioning just before noon on Wednesday, and NHS Digital said the problem had been resolved by 4.30pm. It blamed the outage on “a technical issue with a global service provider that affected many different organisations”.
While people could still request a paper Covid pass by ringing 119, travellers are discouraged from requesting one less than four weeks before their departure, leaving many in the lurch when they went to try to get a digital version as they queued to check in.
Chuck Adolphy, 24, was meant to fly from Gatwick airport to Slovenia on Wednesday for a holiday with his girlfriend but when he opened the app he found he could not retrieve his Covid pass to prove he had been fully vaccinated. He said it was “very annoying” as the two of them were not able to board the plane, despite showing their vaccine cards.
Adolphy called the situation a “shambles” and said about 20 people were ushered out of the airport with them – although it was not clear if all of them had to leave for the same reason. He said he and his partner had been left £100 out of pocket.
Also denied boarding for a flight on Wednesday was Caroline Frost, who noticed the NHS app failure as she was waiting to check in for a trip from Heathrow to Nice.
“I was able to provide all sorts of proof that I’d previously travelled overseas – tests that would have previously required the same proof, even the little blue vaccination card – but nothing was accepted,” she said.
Frost said another traveller was left “very upset” by the ordeal and had to book a hotel at Heathrow and wait for the app to recover, as there were no further flights for her that day.
Tara Birkett was another person affected. She said she missed a ferry crossing from Dover to Calais this because she couldn’t not retrieve her Covid pass.
People attending some events in England may also have been affected, as some places such as music venues require people to use the app to demonstrate their inoculation.
The other UK nations’ Covid apps have also experienced problems in recent months. Earlier in October, users of the Scottish vaccine passport app said it did not work and the app could not find their data, while in July in Northern Ireland, some app users could see other people’s data. The Welsh government hopes it will not see anything similar as its app launches this week.