In Depth

Passport queues at Heathrow Airport hit two-and-a-half hours

UK Border Force routinely failing to meet targets for processing passengers from outside EEA

Passengers queuing for passport control at Heathrow Airport are facing waits of up to two-and-a-half hours, newly released figures show.

There was only “one day last month when the UK Border Force achieved its target of processing 95% of passengers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) within 45 minutes”, says The Times.

The longest delays occurred on 6 July, when non-EEA visitors spent up to two hours and 36 minutes waiting in immigration queues, according to data obtained by Virgin Atlantic.

Craig Kreeger, the airline’s chief executive, said: “Significant queues at border control mean that thousands of visitors have regularly faced the longest queues in London to get their passports checked. 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.

“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.”

Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye “has called for the Home Office to allow visitors from ‘low risk countries such as the US’ to use the same electronic gates that European Union citizens can access”, reports ITV News.

Holland-Kaye previously blamed a “lack of staffing” for long queues during an England World Cup game this summer.

The publication of last month’s figures comes a week after British Airways chief executive Alex Cruz warned in a letter to The Times that Heathrow’s queues were “significantly worse than at many other major world airports”.

Cruz wrote: “Two-hour queues are fast becoming the norm.”

His intervention “came after reports that Britain was considering setting up designated lanes for British passport holders at UK airports after Britain leaves the EU on March 29 next year”, says The Daily Telegraph. But Cruz said that the Government’s plan for British-only passport queues was a diversion and that the priority should be addressing delays across the board.

According to the BBC, the Home Office has said that the poor performance in July was worsened by a “large numbers of vulnerable adults and children arriving”, alongside a number of computer errors.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The vast majority of people who arrive at Heathrow get through the border within our service standards.

“But we understand the frustration for those who have experienced longer waits and remain fully committed to working with our partners to reduce waiting times as far as is possible.

“At the same time, we will not compromise the essential checks we carry out at the border which keep our country safe.”

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