BA Calls Out The UK Border Force For “Serious Inefficiencies”

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It’s not often that I praise British Airways but in this case the airline deserves a pat on the back for calling out the UK Border Force on its often abysmal handling of immigration at UK Airports.

I had a taste of just how idiotic immigration at Heathrow can be earlier this year when a slightly delayed flight meant that we arrived back in the UK (along with 3 – 4 other aircraft) after 11pm. The lines at immigration were horrendous:

a group of people in an airport

The reason for the lines turned out to be the fact that, after 11pm, the eGates get switched off so all passengers (UK, EU and everyone else) have to be processed manually….and there are never enough immigration officers on duty at that time of night to handle a number of aircraft all arriving within a few minutes of one another.

Why the eGates can’t be kept open is a mystery to me but I’m sure there’s a pen-pusher out there who thinks he/she has a good reason – he/she is wrong.

On this occasion I was one of the lucky ones as a fellow traveler on Twitter pointed out:

a screenshot of a social media post

With hoards of people in front of you it’s more than a little galling to see the eGates remain firmly closed.

a group of people in an airport

The thing is that this isn’t a rare occurrence, it happens disappointingly regularly and passengers are more than a little fed up.

Even when you arrive into a UK airport before the eGates close (as I did last week at around 22:30) you’ll often find that most of the eGates have already been turned off and the duty personnel are strangely reluctant to switch any more of them on.

So What Has BA Had To Say?

In a press release BA has explained the message it has passed on to the UK Home Office and the airline has actually managed to hit on just about every point I would hope it to hit – the message is actually pretty well put together (clearly Alex ‘low cost’ Cruz had nothing to do with it!)

Here’s the press release:

British Airways has called on the UK’s Border Force to tackle ‘serious inefficiencies’ that are causing British citizens and visitors to endure long queues and frustrating delays when arriving at UK airports.

In a submission to the Home Office, the airline has raised concerns that families returning from holidays face long queues to pass through immigration. It also stated that with Brexit just round the corner, more than ever, the UK needs to show that it’s an easy place to travel to.

When launching Terminal 5’s eGates in 2015, the Home Office said that: “Automated technology, such as eGates, give Border Force the ability to process a higher number of low risk passengers more quickly and using less resource. This reduces queue times as well as freeing Border Force officers up to focus on other priority work such as cracking down on the smuggling of dangerous goods and identiftying potential victims of trafficking.”

Yet, routinely at Terminal 5 only one third of the 29 state of the art eGates are open. In addition, they are usually shut prematurely at 11pm while customers are still making their way off flights causing massive queues and frustrating delays.

Ensuring as many of the eGates as possible are in use not only means faster passage for eligible travellers but it also eases waiting times for those customers not able to use the automated gates including those travelling with children under the age of 12.

Raghbir S Pattar, British Airways’ Director of Heathrow, said: “We recognise some of the steps being taken by Border Force to improve the service they provide to travellers. However more focus must be put on operating in the most efficient and flexible way and ensuring that passengers’ needs are put first.

“It is a constant frustration to us and to our customers that after a long flight they have to stand in queues, sometimes for over an hour, just to get back into the country. And it is a dreadful welcome for visitors to the UK to be faced with a packed immigration hall and the prospect of a frustrating delay to the start of their holiday or business trip. It adds insult to injury when you’re stuck in a queue but can see numerous gates which just aren’t being used.

“We wholeheartedly support the essential role the Border Force has to protect the UK but more must be done to prevent these unnecessary delays.”

I don’t think I could have put it much better.

The immigration officers I’ve spoken too all seem to share the frustration of the passengers (they don’t like to have to deal with line upon line of angry travelers any more than we like standing in those lines) but apparently they’re powerless to do anything about this mess – it’s up to those far higher up the food chain.

Bottom Line

Immigration at UK airports can be nothing short of an embarrassment to the British nation and the sooner the authorities get off their collective backsides and do something about it the better.

Unfortunately “doing something about it” falls at the feet of bureaucrats for whom efficiency and common sense are as alien as a proper day’s work so I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for significant change…..but it’s good to see BA at least trying to get something done.