This week: London Heathrow’s big week of shambles

Well, well, well, how should we say it? We actually only have one topic this week: London Heathrow (LHR) and its immigration queues. Yes, okay, there were other stories this week too, e.g. a new terminal at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport (ATL)  that had some early passenger testing done for its new $1.4 billion terminal but of them got totally overshadowed by a full week of London Heathrow airport twists, turns and a not so politically correct celebrity comment.

First up was The Guardian that reported of a cover-up story where the UK Border Agency accused the owner of Heathrow Airport (BAA) of increasing the tensions of queuing passengers by handing out a leaflet which apologizes for the long delays. In the article the Border Force and BAA said in a joint statement: “The majority of passengers pass through immigration control quickly but there are sometimes delays at airports for a range of reasons. We think it’s important passengers are given the full picture.”

Then on Tuesday Reuters reported that airlines using London’s Heathrow airport would be prepared to pay higher landing fees to reduce long queues at the British hub which have reached “crisis” levels, according to the chief executive of British Airways owner IAG. That’s all good, but we at LateDeparture believe this wouldn’t go well with the passengers as surely the airlines would forward these costs to its customers.

On Wednesday then – bang – the strike threat hit us when the Wall Street Journal reported that attempts to shorten immigration queues at London’s Heathrow airport ahead of the Summer Olympics suffered a blow as a second labor union representing immigration officers announced a strike for May 10, threatening to bring greater delays for those entering U.K. airports. Wow, that’s certainly pouring oil into the fire!

Following that, the very next day, Reuters reported the April waiting time statistics of the airport. The article read that one in four of all non-European passengers arriving at Terminal 5 at London’s Heathrow airport last month had to wait longer than the target time of 45 minutes to get through passport control, according to the UK Border Force data. In the article Heathrow owner BAA said the Border Force’s monthly performance data showed that 24 percent of non-European passengers had to wait longer than 45 minutes at Heathrow’s new Terminal 5 during April. It added that the target was missed on 23 out of the 30 days.

Then to finish it all off, Jeremy Clarkson comes in to the picture. Yes, that guy from the BBC show “Top Gear”. The Telegraph yesterday run a story where apparently he claimed that the long delays at Heathrow border control were because immigration officials were no longer allowed to use their discretion to wave certain passengers through. As to the article Clarkson said: “Nobody is waved through any more. The result is plain for all to see. There’s a two-hour wait. And the problem is: the only possible solution is to introduce a bit of racism.” He then added: “Nobody likes a racist. Nobody likes prejudice. It has no place at work, at play, or in government. But at Heathrow airport? Hmmm.”

That’s it – let’s hope for some news rest for Heathrow so that some of these issues can be fixed properly. Speaking of “rest” we will now go on a two week break ourselves. Follow our tweets for news in the meantime and read you again here in a fortnight!

[Picture (not taken at Heathrow) from Flickr – Some rights reserved by florriebassingbourn]