It’s a potential catastrophe for the UK’s tourism industry and for our chances of enticing international businesspeople to come to London for meetings. Last night passengers arriving at Heathrow had to wait a shocking three hours at passport control, a horrific peak to the border control queue problems that have been plaguing the airport for years.
The queues left non-EU passengers stranded until the early hours of this morning, after the last flight landed at Terminal 5 at 22:40 yesterday. EU passengers apparently avoided the turmoil and zipped through passport control, which is at least some solace.
The Evening Standard reports that at one point apparently just two Heathrow employees were checking passports.
The news is an alarming portent for the havoc that could hit Heathrow during the Olympics – though the possibility that overall tourism numbers will drop during August and September might sidestep that issue.
More worrying still is the long-term effect that long queues have on business tourism to the UK. LondonlovesBusiness.com has recently talked to a very high-profile member of the London business community who reported that businesspeople from China and other emerging economies are increasingly holding important meetings in Germany or Paris to avoid Heathrow border control queues.
If the queuing chaos continues, London risks losing trade because of a problem that could be easily solved.
Head of Border Force Brian Moore told the Standard: “We will not compromise border security but we always aim to keep disruption to a minimum by using our staff flexibly to meet demand.
“The vast majority of passengers pass through immigration control quickly. Queues are caused by a number of factors, including incorrect flight manifests or early or late planes which result in bunching.
“The important factor is to have staff that are flexibly deployed in the right numbers at the right times and this is what we always try to do.”
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