Heathrow Airport queue row escalates as accusations fly over web images ban
Passengers arriving at the West London airport have faced queues for immigration checkpoints of over two hours in recent weeks, a worrying sign generally for the airport, airlines and UK government but especially for the London 2012 organisers ahead of a deluge of international visitors for the games in the summer.
In an attempt to crack down on some of the increasing levels bad publicity around the situation last week, Border Agency officials are reported to have asked BAA to stop passengers taking pictures of the queues, many of which are ending up on social media sites.
There is a general ban at UK airports (similar to elsewhere around the world) on photography in secure areas such as immigration zones, but with lines snaking out into other parts of the airport arrival areas, frustrated passengers have snapped away and posted their pictures on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr et al.
The Home Office-run Border Agency clearly does not like this, especially as the queues are being blamed squarely at the organisation for reintroducing of full passport checks for all non-EU passengers, under-staffing during busy periods and some problems with fingerprint scanning technology.
Heathrow owner BAA, often the recipient of heavy criticism by passengers and authorities when things have gone wrong in recent years (snow in December 2010 being a particular example), is also said to have been told by the Border Agency to stop handing out leaflets to those trapped in the queues.
A leaked email obtained by the Telegraph revealed agency officials have chastised BAA for a leaflet which outlined how passengers can complain about the extensive delays during the immigration process.
In an attempt to diffuse the situation, officials over the weekend jointly said they are working together to “keep delays to a minimum”.
However, a BAA official this morning says it will not comment on the photography ban or the leaflets, but is reiterating its frustration with the ongoing problems, adding its voice to the pressure on the Border Agency and Home Office:
“Immigration is a matter for 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.
“There isn’t a trade-off between strong border security and a good passenger experience – the Home Office should be delivering both.”
Kevin May is a senior editor and one of the co-founders at Tnooz. He was previously editor of UK-based magazine Travolution and web editor of Media Week UK from 2003 to 2005.
He has worked in regional newspapers (Essex Enquirer) and started his career in journalism at the Police Gazette at New Scotland Yard in London. He has a degree in criminology, a postgraduate diploma in magazine journalism and will be publishing his first book - a biography about electronic band, Depeche Mode - soon.