UK & World News
Heathrow Passport Queue Times Exceed EU Targets
Nearly 25% of passengers arriving at Heathrow airport's Terminal Five from non-European Union countries in April queued for more than 45 minutes at immigration control.
The latest figures released by airport operator BAA show Border Agency officials failed to hit the target of getting 95% of travellers through checks at the flagship terminal before the three-quarter-hour mark.
All three other terminals also failed to meet the target for non-EU passport holders, but around 99% of European passengers were processed within 25 minutes.
However, further disruptions are expected later this month when immigration officials go on strike as part of the dispute over public sector pensions.
The Immigration Services Union (ISU), which represents 4,500 Border Agency staff, has said its members will walk out next Thursday at ports and airports across the UK and abroad.
Long delays have caused increasing anger at Heathrow over the last month and immigration minister Damien Green was called to the House of Commons on Monday to answer an urgent question on the issue.
Mr Green said that during the first two weeks of April the target had been met, with 96% of passengers completing immigration within 45 minutes.
He also admitted the Border Force needed to change the way it operated and said 80 extra staff would start work at Heathrow this month.
On Wednesday, he said that "tried and tested contingency plans" would be used to minimise the disruption caused by the strike.
But Eurotunnel expressed it fears of "chaos" beyond Heathrow if staff are diverted to meet the airport's needs.
Spokesman John Keefe said: "We have concerns about resourcing, not just for the Olympics but for the whole of the summer.
The issue was raised when representatives of the airline industry met Mr Green and Home Secretary.
The British Air Transport Association (Bata), the trade body representing UK airlines, said after the meeting: "The current passenger experience of frequent and excessive delays is unacceptable for legitimate travellers.
"We want to see a Border Force with the resources and flexibility to support robust border security checks and deliver a good passenger experience at the same time.
The target for clearing non-EU passengers at Terminal 5 was missed on 23 out of 30 days in April, 21 days at Terminal 3 and at Terminal 4, and on 12 days at Terminal 1.
There were hour-long queues at Terminal 5 on April 10, while there were queues of two hours 35 minutes for non-EU passport holders at Terminal 5 on April 17. On April 30, there were three-hour queues at T4.
Bata said the existing 25-minute and 45-minute average-delay targets were "not demanding enough" and should be replaced with maximum delay targets.
Labour's Shadow Immigration Minister Chris Bryant said: "Damian Green's complacency in Parliament on Monday has now shown to be completely misplaced.
"People are right to feel angry that thanks to the Government's ineptitude and cuts of nearly 900 members of staff, queues at Heathrow have been far too long."