LONDON, Aug 10: The boss of Heathrow Airport in London, John Holland-Kaye, on Friday called for quick actions by the British government to tackle excessive immigration queues at passport control as he warned that lengthy delays are damaging Britain’s image.
It was wrong that many foreign visitors were having to wait for too long, and that action was needed to speed their entry into the country, Holland-Kaye, who is Heathrow Airport’s chief executive, said, adding that long queues make foreign visitors feel unwelcome at the British border.
His call, which echoes similar comments by the head of British Airways and business leaders in London, came as the airport announced that it had recorded the busiest day in its history last month.
It said that nearly 262,000 passengers used the airport on July 29 with further “unprecedented peaks” leading to 19 days in the month when more than a quarter of million people went through its terminals.
According to Holland-Kaye, this meant, overall more than 7.8 million passengers had travelled through Heathrow during July, giving the airport its 21st consecutive record month.
But he warned that the success was being spoilt by the failure of the UK Border Force to process arriving passengers more quickly as he hit out over the length of delays at passport control.
“It’s brilliant to see even more international visitors coming to the UK and supercharging the country’s economy this summer,” he said. “However, too often their first impression of the UK is a long queue for immigration.”
Visitors from the European Union (EU) can use the e-gates at the border control to get an easy entry into the country. Holland-Kaye urged the British Home Office to let visitors from low risk countries to use the same e-gates as EU visitors “to give them a warm welcome to Britain.”
It is the British official target that arriving passengers from outside the EU should clear passport control within a maximum of 45 minutes on 95 percent of occasions. The maximum delay for Britons and other Europeans is meant to be 25 minutes.
But the latest performance figures, which covered July, showed that more than 20 percent of non-European arrivals at Heathrow are having to wait for longer periods.
Waits of more than two hours have been reported with some disgruntled passengers taking to social media to post photos of the huge queues they are standing in.
The head of the UK Border Force at Heathrow, Nick Jariwalla, has insisted that his staff are doing all they can to minimize delays, but has told the Evening Standard newspaper that it is not “a sensible ambition” to expect the queues can be eliminated altogether.
Both British Airways and the business organization London First have criticized his comments and insisted that reforms, including the employment of more staff and the opening of e-gates to some non-European passengers, should be implemented to speed up arrivals.
The latest Heathrow figures showed big increases in passengers using Heathrow from virtually all parts of the world. EU passengers are up by 2.6 percent over the past year with a total of 2.7 million last month.
African and North American numbers are up by 3.4 percent and 2.4 percent respectively in a year, while the biggest surge is in passengers from Latin America. Their numbers were up by 6.4 percent compared with 12 months ago. (Xinhua)
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