The government made an emergency statement in the parliament
LONDON mayor Boris Johnson said two-hour immigration queues at Heathrow Airport were giving a “terrible impression” of Britain as the furore escalated on Monday (April 30), just weeks before the Olympics.
The government was forced into making an emergency statement in parliament later on Monday on passport checks at the world’s busiest international passenger airport, which will be the main gateway for the 2012 London Games.
Delays of up to two hours for passengers from outside Europe were reported last week.
Frustrated passengers resorted to slow hand-clapping and jeering, while one fed-up traveller marched through the gates without showing his passport, according to reports.
Johnson wrote to home secretary Theresa May to voice his “serious concern” about the difficulties, which have triggered a clash between border force officials and BAA, Heathrow’s owner and operator.
The mayor, who hopes to be re-elected on Thursday (May 3), said the delays gave “a terrible impression of the UK” and it was unfortunate that Britain’s main port of entry was “gaining such a poor reputation”.
“It is quite clear that because of problems at the UK border, London and the UK’s reputation as a welcoming city in which to do business or travel are at stake.”
In tough economic times, “it is vital that those coming here to do business find arrival an easy and welcoming process. Anything that interferes with that damages our city,” added the mayor, who is standing for re-election on Thursday.
Passengers waited for up to an hour at the airport on Friday (April 27) to go through border control, while there were two-hour queues on Thursday (April 26) for passport holders from outside the 30-country European Economic Area.
In response to the delays, extra border staff were flown into Heathrow from Manchester to help keep queues down on Monday, a union official told The Times newspaper.
The Daily Telegraph, citing emails seen by the broadsheet, also reported that the border force had urged BAA not to distribute “inflammatory” leaflets at Heathrow.
The leaflets told passengers they deserved better and asked them to direct their complaints to the home office.
The wording apologised for the wait and said the airport was trying to make things “as bearable as possible”.
“Both Heathrow Airport and your airline believe you deserve a warmer welcome to the UK, without compromising security,” it read.
Marc Owen, the director of UK Border Agency operations at Heathrow, said the leaflet was “not all right with us” and threatened to take it up with the government.
“It is both inflammatory and likely to increase tensions in arrivals halls especially in the current atmosphere,” he said in an email to BAA, according to the Telegraph.
Heathrow is the official host airport for the 2012 Olympics, with around 80 per cent of all visitors to the Games expected to pass through its five terminals.
The airport is building a special Olympics terminal for athletes and officials leaving after the Games and expects to have its busiest ever day on August 13, the day after the closing ceremony.
Airlines using Heathrow airport would be prepared to pay higher landing fees to reduce long queues at the British hub which have reached “crisis” levels, according to the chief executive of British Airways owner IAG.
Passengers arriving at BAA operated Heathrow have suffered lengthy delays at passport control in the past week. Travellers have complained of empty border control desks and the failure of iris scanners brought in to speed up the processing of arrivals.
Britain’s immigration minister Damian Green on Monday told parliament heavy rain across the south of England was the main cause of the delays. He said the severe weather had led to diverted flights and the bunching of arrivals.
Green, however, promised that immigration desks at Heathrow and other airports would be staffed during peak periods for the Olympic Games.
No Comments Posted yet
Do you have comments on this?