Olympic Fears over Heathrow Queues

28 Apr 2012

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Airline passengers queue at a Heathrow airport terminal


The British Home Office's border control agency was under fire on Saturday as MPs and passengers voiced frustration about long queues at Heathrow airport three months out from the Olympics.

Huge queues at passport control were reported on Thursday and Friday at Heathrow, the world's busiest international passenger airport, which will be the main gateway for the 2012 Games that get under way on July 27, reports AFP.

Passengers waited for up to an hour on Friday to go through the checks, while there were two-hour queues on Thursday for passport holders from outside the 30-country European Economic Area.

Immigration minister Damian Green is to be quizzed by the Home Affairs Select Committee on the situation.

"There is a real problem and the problem has emerged over the last few months," committee chairman, Keith Vaz told BBC radio.

"I'm not saying we should abandon checks, but it's a choice for the government -- you either look at the way you deal with people when they arrive at Heathrow or you recruit more staff.

"This is not just about the Olympics: this is about what happens before and after, it's about Heathrow as a world-class airport and it's about our reputation -- and we need to make sure we get it sorted."

BAA, which owns and operates Heathrow, said he recent queues were "unacceptable" and they were taking up the issue with the Home Office.

"Immigration waiting times during peak periods at Heathrow recently have been unacceptable and we have called on the Home Office to address the problem as a matter of urgency," a spokeswoman said.

"There isn't a trade-off between strong border security and a good passenger experience -- the Home Office should be delivering both."

A spokesman for the Home Office's Border Force body said: "We will not compromise border security but we always aim to keep disruption to a minimum by using our staff flexibly to meet demand."

Heathrow is the official host airport for the 2012 Olympics, with around 80 percent of all visitors to the Games passing through the west London airport.

Earlier this month a separate parliamentary committee warned that Heathrow may struggle to cope with extra passengers during the event.

It suggested the border agency had insufficient funds to ensure all passport lanes would be open.

Alastair Campbell, ex-prime minister Tony Blair's former communications chief, was among those caught up in Thursday's queues.

"If this is what Heathrow T5 border queue is like on an average Thursday, Olympic athletes should think about coming soon," he said.

Delayed passenger Leo Lourdes told BBC television: "The queue just keeps stretching on and all you see is despondent faces.

"It was quite embarrassing, especially with the Olympics coming up. I know in the UK we have a reputation for queuing but Terminal 5 were going for gold with this one. It's literally the longest queue I've ever seen!"

Tags: Sports, World, Heathrow Queues

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