Heathrow Airport queue row escalates as accusations fly over web images ban

Less than three months until the London 2012 Olympics and ongoing problems with lengthy queues at Heathrow Airport are threatening to spiral out of control.

Or at least that is what the authorities are fearing, with reports of a row between airport owner BAA and the UK’s Border Agency over attempts to minimise public anger only stirring the pot further.

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.”

NB: Heathrow queue image via Gruntzooki.

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Kevin May

About the Writer :: Kevin May

Kevin May was a co-founder and member of the editorial team from September 2009 to June 2017.



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  1. murray harrold

    What will happen, here is the same as what happened in the erstwhile East Germany, when there were trade fares at places such as Leipzig.

    Basically, for the period when the UK is under the world’s spotlight – aka the Olympics – there will suddenly be more immigration officers than you can shake a stick at. (In East Germany, they sent a man with a bucket of sand about the place to fill in the holes in the roads) as soon as that spotlight shifts away, it will be back to business as usual – like in East Germany, the holes were back.

    It is not just a matter of not employing enough officers. This is the usual make do an mend philosophy that is becoming a tad irksome. It is becoming Pythonesque – you can’t get anything done in this country until you complain ’till you are blue in the mouth…

    There will be enough other issues when the Olympics come along. After all, the Hammersmith Flyover is falling down, the Marples Ridgeway and the elevated bit of the A40 into London are not far behind. We already know the crumbling tube system won’t cope – which is why LOCOG and others are putting out their “On yer Bike” message … or you can walk, of course.

    I just wonder if they will need Zil Lanes on the pavements ….

  2. Fred Flange

    I work at Heathrow and know for a fact that the United Kingdom Border Agency – ie Immigration officers have been copiously handing out the complaints leaflets themselves. BAA and UKBA senior management have totally failed to manage the situation leaving the immigration officers with no option but to encourage complaints against … themselves. And before you ask , no I am not an immigration officer !!!!!!!!


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