Here at the Operations Room, we like queues — not so much standing in them but talking about them. Indeed, about the only thing better than us talking about queues would be if queues became a political issue and people with impressive job titles were forced to talk about them.
And that is exactly what is happening in the United Kingdom.
The queues in question are for clearing passport control at Heathrow. Apparently, wait times have been creeping up, passengers are complaining, and everyone is getting nervous about what this will look like when the world descends on London for the Olympics. According to the Globe and Mail, the source of the problem is a confluence of ramped up security and staff cuts (Long queues at Heathrow spark concern, Apr 30).
The long queues are caused by a combination of tougher passport checks, after last autumn’s row about the Border Force relaxing procedures too far, and staff cuts at the agency. The Home Office is reducing the force’s manpower by about 18 per cent from 2010 to 2015.
Damian Green, the Home Office minister, told MPs on Monday that it was important to maintain a balance between security and putting on a good first impression for visitors arriving at Heathrow.
He said in the Commons that his officials’ study of the position last week showed that claims of border desk queues were exaggerated and the longest queue was at Terminal 5 at Heathrow last Friday, where non-EU passengers were forced to wait for 90 minutes. The queues were “significantly less” for EU and U.K. arrivals, he added.
Of course, there is some dispute about just how bad waits are. The Daily Mail (Millions could face airport delays this summer as Border Agency crisis continues, May 1) reports that waits might be far worse than Minister Green is letting on.
However, leaked documents revealed that limits for waiting times at Heathrow’s Terminal 3 were broken 107 times in just two weeks.
The official 45-minute waiting time for passengers from outside Europe arriving at Terminal 3 was broken 82 times in the first two weeks of April. The longest wait faced by non-European passengers was 91 minutes.
European passport holders, including British travellers, had to wait longer than the 25-minute limit on five occasions. There were even 20 delays at the fast-track ‘e-gates’.
Willie Walsh, chief executive of British Airways’ parent company IAG has launched a tirade against the Border Agency’s ‘pathetic’ performance and furious tourists caught in the queues have sworn not to visit the UK again.
The BBC has a fun interview with both Minister Green and the aforementioned Mr. Walsh that is well worth a listen. (more…)
Read Full Post »