Airlines have warned the Border Force urgent improvements must be made to avoid deterring visitors from the UK.
The cry for change came as an Immigration Service Union survey of Heathrow and Gatwick members revealed passport queues could regularly take up to four hours.
Andy Friend, ISU chairman, said: “Any organisation that reduces its workforce by 25 per cent and introduces a rigid rostering system when a more flexible approach would make better use of resources has the potential for long delays.
“As yet we have no forecasts for the Olympic period, especially as Border Force will have probably trained up enough people to double the amount of people working on the arrivals control.”
As London gears up to welcome the world this summer to the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Board of Airline Representatives in the UK (BAR UK), which represents airlines including British Airways, Emirates and Virgin Atlantic, also called for the government to intervene and speed up entry into the UK using more efficient technology.
The airlines voiced their concerns over traditional manual methods leading to lengthier queue times and the need for ever-larger immigration halls.
However they said with access to improved processes the country could prevent visitors from choosing to take their business elsewhere.
Mike Carrivick, chief executive of BAR UK said: “The efforts of the Border Force to handle peak periods such as bank holidays and the Olympics are well-recognised but cannot be sustained without necessary changes.
“The airline community already cooperates by providing advance access to the passport data of approximately 90 million travellers each year, all of whom can be checked against a watch list to identify those who pose a threat or who should not be in the UK.
“Allied to that, airlines would also like to see an increase in the number of smart gates, that permit automated entry through the use of chip-enabled passports, and the re-introduction of smartzones.
“Huge improvements can be made to the queues without compromising the government’s need for full border controls.”
A Border Force spokesman said: “We are well-prepared for the Olympics with additional staff available for busy periods.
“But we will not compromise on border security and are working with BAA to ensure that we are ready to deal with extra passengers.” Source: Skyport.
IAG boss Willie Walsh said that the UK was losing jobs due to delays at airports’, but failed to explain exactly how a queue at immigration leads to unemployment.
Like every major city airports Heathrow and Gatwick experience delays at peak times, however, I have been in far worse queues at American airports, where I have also seen whole families sent to the back of a long line because they had not filled in the immigration card correctly.
I have also met migrant workers and students at various UK airports and the vast majority were in the arrival hall within 45 minutes.
Airlines would naturally like all their passengers fast-tracked through immigration, but the border agency were recently slammed for relaxing passport controls to ease delays.
Most passengers get through immigration only to find that their luggage has not yet reached the conveyor.
UK tourist expenditure rose by more than seven per cent to hit a record-breaking £9.36bn for 2011, while business visitors spent 16 per cent more than they did in 2010.
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