BAA has hit out at “unacceptably” long immigration queues at Heathrow after reports some passengers were forced to wait two-and-a-half hours last week.
Concerns have been raised about whether the west London airport’s immigration system, which is the responsibility of the Home Office, will be able to cope as thousands of athletes descend on the capital over the next three weeks.
The airport operator said the Home Office had vowed to make sure all Border Force desks at Heathrow would be in action during peak Olympic arrival times, but added that the government department should be “delivering a good experience for regular passengers as well as Olympic visitors”.
Border Force needs to get non-EU passport holders through immigration at London’s busiest airport in less than 45 minutes for 95% of the time if it is to meet its targets. The goal is less than 25 minutes for 95% of the time for passengers carrying EU passports.
There were queues a half-mile long at Heathrow’s Terminal 4 on Friday, according to The Daily Telegraph, which printed pictures of empty immigration desks.
A spokesman for BAA said: “Immigration is a matter for the Home Office. The Home Office has said that from July 15 all Border Force desks at Heathrow will be open during peak arrival periods.
“Immigration waiting times for passengers during peak periods at Heathrow in the last few days have been unacceptably long and the Home Office should be delivering a good experience for regular passengers as well as Olympic visitors.”
But a Border Force spokeswoman said the queues at the airport were “less than an hour” and extra staff had been put in place to deal with them.
West End Travel managing director David Segel said the queues at Heathrow airport could not be seen in many other European cities.
He said the delays contrasted to his experiences on a recent trip to Moscow, where he was through immigration checks in minutes.
Segel said: “After the real problems a month or six weeks ago they cleaned it up by bringing staff in from Bristol, Belfast and Manchester to augment staff in Heathrow.
“It was, in my opinion, a cosmetic exercise so they could say three days later when a government minister turned up: ‘Problem? What problem?’”
Segel said the queues were partially understandable because of the security threat posed to Britain, which other countries do not have to deal with.
“Of course they have got a job to do, but the question is how are they coping with that job? If I had an office and I was getting 2,000 calls a day, I would need the staff to deal with it,” he said.