As is being widely reported [including by the Daily Telegraph], several airlines including aviation powerhouses British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have issued a head up to passengers that the UK Border Agency simply does not have enough resources to check the passports of the thousands of arrivals that are expected through Heathrow and Gatwick airports over the holiday weekend.
And the industry knew this was coming. The British Air Transport Association [BATA], the trade association for UK-registered airlines, advocated for the airlines in a recent letter to the U.K. government requesting more resources for the holiday weekend, which is one of the busiest travel periods of the year for the U.K. It is estimated that more than 370,000 passengers are expected at Heathrow airport between Good Friday and Easter Monday with another 200,000 passing through Gatwick, London’s second busiest airport.
With the U.K. Border Force insisting that security not be compromised on one side, the politics of staff cut backs in the middle, and the airlines on the other side, this could be a very miserable few days for anyone waiting to get their passports checked. In fact, if the immigration halls become too crowded, the airlines may be forced to keep passengers on planes, which will then delay flights in a ripple effect. Up to this point, a consortium of airlines have asked the U.K.’s home affairs select committee to modify the procedure of passport-checking from that of a “blanket” approach to an approach that is more targeted towards individuals that pose a greater risk to security, based on an established set of criteria.
Whatever the case, it is clear that no new action will take place over the next day or two, so, if you find yourself entering the U.K., don’t forget your passport or your patience.