Those passport queues at Heathrow

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions
an airport queue at Gatwick

This queue for passport control is at Gatwick where queues don’t seem as long as Heathrow. Usually!

Last week the head of BA complained about the length of time it took to get through passport control at Heathrow. This week both the CEO of the airport itself and Virgin Atlantic complained about the same thing.

Officially, arriving passengers from outside the EU should clear passport control within a maximum of 45 minutes. For those going through the EU line, the maximum time is supposed to be 25 minutes. After Brexit there might be a third line for UK residents and who knows how long that might take to get though.

It appears that passengers can be taking a lot longer than two hours to get though the system.

The Home Office said “The vast majority of people who arrive at Heathrow get through the border within our service standards.” It didn’t accept or deny the figures in delays and on the Border Agency website there was nothing. The Home Office has an extra 200 people but that doesn’t seem to be making a difference.

Is having more people the answer? And if 200 don’t seem to make a difference what number will? If you do hire additional staff what do you do with them when there are fewer passengers passing through the airport? Pay for them to be idle?

The Border Agency has a commitment service level to meet those clearance times 95% of the time. For non EU passengers it hasn’t met that service level since February this year whereas it regularly attains that level in EU passenger passport lines. Only EU passengers can use the automated systems so could that be the reason where the service levels are achieved. Couldn’t – as some have called for – more non-EU passengers use the automated areas as happens in Australia for example? Could those nations where previous knowledge tells the Border Agency that there will be fewer issues be allowed to use the automation system.

Saying – as the Home Office has done – that it remains “fully committed to working with our partners to reduce waiting times as far as is possible,” is no joy for passport holders.

In other industries, such as rail those not achieving targets are fined but that is no solution as we would be fining ourselves as taxpayers. Imposing compensation if the targets were not met would also be less than helpful to taxpayers.

Automation must be the answer and instead of lines for EU and non-EU residents there should be lines for UK, EU, favoured nation status and others

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