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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Airline anger over long queues at UK's Heathrow

Queuing targets missed on all but one day in July for arrivals at Britain's biggest airport

New figures show increasingly long delays at Heathrow's passport control. Reuters
New figures show increasingly long delays at Heathrow's passport control. Reuters

Travellers arriving at Britain’s busiest airport faced immigration queues reaching up to two-and-a-half hours last month as a backlash grows over the failing service offered by border officials.

Official figures heightened concerns from anecdotal reports of long waits and inadequate provision at Heathrow Airport. British Airways described the situation as a “border farce” and other airlines have joined the national flagship in lodging complaints.

Passengers landing at the west London hub faced queues that extended well beyond the airport’s target waiting time of 45 minutes. A number of airlines resorted to providing additional assistance, supplying food and beverages to the passengers after disembarkment.

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On 30 of 31 days in July, the 45-minute target was missed for 95% of visitors who were queuing in lanes outside the automatic barriers provided for passport holders from outside the European Economic Area (EEA). Queues were longest on July 6, when non-EEA visitors had to wait for up to two hours and 36 minutes.

British Airways head, Alex Cruz, described the situation as a “border farce” in a letter to The Times newspaper.

Virgin Atlantic CEO Craig Kreeger said that the delays were “unacceptable.” “We all agree that security and safety at our airports is vital and remains our top priority, but other countries are managing their borders more effectively,” Mr Kreeger said Monday in a statement.

"At a time when the UK needs to show the world it is open for business, the Government and Border Force need to provide a great first impression for every visitor every time."

Britain’s interior ministry, responsible for Border Force operations, said it would deploy 200 additional staff at Heathrow during peak travel periods in August and September.

Heathrow Airport’s chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, called on the Home Office last week to allow visitors from low risk countries - such as the US - to use the electronic passport gates which currently are only open to EEA visitors.