Airlines have sent a warning that U.K. airports could face gridlock over Easter, as a shortage of U.K. Border Agency Guards may lead to chaos at passport control.
According to Travel Weekly, 11 airlines have warned British Home Secretary Theresa May of impending problems over the Easter break when 1.5 million people are expected to travel abroad.
Following the scandal that ensued when the UK Border Agency relaxed immigration checks without seeking permission from the home secretary, immigration checks have been tightened. A shortage of personnel to check passports has resulted in Virgin Atlantic outlining the potential problems in memo to the Home Affairs Select Committee. The Telegraph quoted from the leaked memo which said
“If arriving passengers are unable to proceed efficiently through the UK border then the entire airport operation will be at risk. Passengers arriving late from passport control to collect their luggage will cause congestion in the baggage hall, delaying delivery of luggage from later flights.
If there is no space in the immigration hall for any more arrivals then airlines will be forced to keep passengers aboard the aircraft, thus jeopardising the operation of subsequent flights. This in turn will delay departing passengers and cause overcrowding in departure areas as a result.”
The issue is pressing as the 2012 Olympics loom. MP Keith Vaz has warned that airport queues could turn into "national embarrassment." He has urged the government to either provide increased resources or to adopt a more risk-based approach to immigration checks. He said “We don’t want this turning into a shambles in the run-up to and during the Olympics.”
One commentator on the Telegraph decried the shambles of the U.K. border controls saying the lengthy airport queues send out the message "We're not a nation that says we're open for business." Moreover he adds that staff cannot communicate with foreign arrivals but "just shout louder in English when a foreigner struggles to understand them. Like I said, we're a shambles. It's embarrassing."
A spokesman for the U.K. Border Control Agency has said that security will not be compromised to avoid disruption at peak travel times.