Travellers to face summer of long delays at Stansted
Monday June 25, 2007
The civil servant in charge of immigration has warned that security must take priority over airport queues, amid estimates that passengers arriving at Britain's third-largest hub face delays of at least an hour this summer.
In an interview with the Guardian, Lin Homer, chief executive of the Border and Immigration Agency, said passport checks would not be scaled back to cut delays. Stansted, already suffering lengthy hold-ups at passport control since new procedures were introduced this year, is braced for even longer delays over the holiday season. According to estimates by owner BAA, passengers may face peak-time waits of an hour at immigration control.
“We think public protection is our most important responsibility and if occasionally you have to wait longer for that, we think that's OK,” said Ms Homer.
Airlines have warned of delays because passport swipe machines, introduced in January, are taking twice as long to process passengers. Ms Homer said queues of more than an hour at Stansted would “not be the norm”, but admitted that waiting times will rise if airports and airlines fail to run smooth operations this summer.
“If flights are late or delayed, at times like that you can end up with everybody arriving at once. We either keep people waiting or wave them through and that, in reality, is in fact one option.”
Ms Homer added that strict immigration procedures brought benefits as well, such as Britain's place on the US visa waiver programme.
A spokesman for easyJet, one of Stansted's main customers, said the projected waiting time was “scandalously long”.
“We have taken a long time to get people back into the habit of flying after last August. It seems as if the immigration services are undermining a lot of the good work done by the industry,” he said.
Ryanair, Stansted's biggest airline, said last week that the immigration queues were already unacceptable. Michael O'Leary, its chief executive, said “secure-ocrats” were taking over British airports.
Stephen Nelson, BAA chief executive, said passengers should expect long waits at peak times. In an interview with the Guardian last week, he admitted that BAA was not delivering “at an acceptable level.” He added: “Given the sheer volume of traffic going through our airports, which as we know are working well up to and in some cases beyond capacity, we will have pinch points particularly at peak times.”
BAA has been criticised by business leaders for delays at Heathrow, which they say are due to underinvestment. BAA says it has recruited 1,400 staff since last summer to speed up security, with a further 300 planned for Heathrow by the end of the year.
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