'Horrendous' Long Lines Worsen for Passengers at London Heathrow
Visitors from outside the European Union are continuing to have to wait in abnormally long lines — often more than two hours — at London's Heathrow Airport to have their passports processed.
New data from Virgin Atlantic published Monday by the BBC shows that for 30 days out of the 31 in July, the airport's border force missed its self-imposed target of a 45-minute wait or less for 95% of the visitors from outside the European Union. Virgin says the waits have "frustrated" passengers.
"At a time when the UK needs to show the world it is open for business, the government and Border Force need to provide a great first impression for every visitor every time," Virgin Atlantic CEO Craig Kreeger said.
Last week, British Airways CEO Alex Cruz expressed similar sentiments about the long wait times at LHR, noting that "two-hour queues are fast becoming the norm."
"What kind of message does this send, as we try to build links outside the EU?” Cruz wrote in an op-ed to the Times of London, adding that the wait times at LHR immigration were worse than any other airport in Europe.
Despite the UK government saying it would deploy 200 extra border officers to help mitigate the long lines, passengers wait times are still backed up this summer (including one day when the border officers “abandoned” their posts to watch the World Cup). The worst day so far was July 6, according to Virgin Atlantic's data, with visitors forced to wait two hours and 36 minutes that day to have their passports processed.
Michael Klein, an art dealer from New York who frequently travels through Heathrow, told the BBC that he has waited in passport lines for more than two hours on three different trips in the past month, calling the experience "just horrendous."
Heathrow's CEO John Holland-Kaye has asked the UK's Home Office to allow visitors from "low risk countries" like the US to be allowed to use electronic gates to have their passports processed.
But the UK government says that for the most part, passengers arriving from outside the EU are processed within the 45-minute mark.
"The vast majority of people who arrive at Heathrow get through the border within our service standards," the Home Office said in a statement. "But we understand the frustration for those who have experienced longer waits and remain fully committed to working with our partners to reduce waiting times as far as is possible."