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10:50am UK, Wednesday April 04, 2012
Airlines have warned there could be long queues at Britain’s airports over the Easter weekend because of staff shortages at the UK Border Agency – with one firm saying there could be “gridlock”.
Eleven firms, including British Airways and Virgin, have written to Home Secretary Theresa May telling her the agency does not have the resources to check everyone’s passports as they come into Britain.
The airlines are urging the Government to employ more border control staff or relax tough restrictions on immigration checks that came in after a scandal at the agency last November.
Its former boss Brodie Clark resigned after Mrs May said he had relaxed checks without her permission. He was later reportedly given £100,000 compensation by the Home Office, with neither side admitting fault.
Simon Buck, chief executive of the British Air Transport Association, wrote to Mrs May on behalf of the 11 airlines urging her to ensure passport controls are “properly resourced”.
There are fears of long queues at passport control over the Easter break due to staff shortages
He said: “We don’t want to see queues at airports. It’s bad for passengers and for UK plc to see long queues at passport control.
“We are looking for reassurance from the Home Office that the Border Force will be properly resourced.
“There was a risk approach until November last year, and the Border Force was streamlined to focus on this approach.”
Virgin has gone further, warning MPs that long queues at passport control could leave passengers stranded on planes and put the operation of “entire airports at risk”.
The memo to the home affairs select committee and obtained by the Daily Telegraph 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.”
We don’t want to see queues at airports. It’s bad for passengers and for UK plc to see long queues at passport control.
Simon Buck, chief executive of the British Air Transport Association
It added: “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. At peak travel periods, such as the Easter holidays, there is a very real chance of gridlock at UK airports.”
A spokeswoman for Virgin Airlines said: “After years of reducing frontline staff, returning to a 100% check system will undoubtedly mean lengthy queues at UK airports over critical holiday periods such as Easter and the Diamond Jubilee.
“If the Government wishes to continue with this policy, it must put the resource in place to make it possible or we risk gridlock at our busiest airports at a time when we hope to be welcoming millions to the UK.”
Heathrow airport told Sky News it estimates it will handle 768,000 passengers between Good Friday and Easter Monday, while there will be around 400,000 travellers using Gatwick.
A Border Force spokesman said: “We will not compromise border security but we always aim to keep disruption to a minimum. Carrying out full checks can mean queues at peak times while we ensure that only people entitled to enter the UK can do so.”