Heathrow boss slams Border Force queues and demands action

Simon Calder
·2-min read
Tricky times: a UK border force sign at Heathrow Terminal 5 (Simon Calder)
Tricky times: a UK border force sign at Heathrow Terminal 5 (Simon Calder)

The chief executive of Britain’s busiest airport has criticised UK Border Force for immigration queues extending beyond six hours – and has warned that it will take weeks to expand capacity when passenger numbers start to increase.

John Holland-Kaye said: “We’ve had tiny numbers of people flying, but we’ve had queues of up to six-and-a-half hours in immigration, which is completely unacceptable but also unrealistic as we start to scale up.

“This is where we need the government to make sure that the measures they put in place are reasonable, that we don’t have unnecessary levels of paperwork and checks, that we automate as much as possible – but that we also have the right amount of resources available from government to be able to provide people with a really good service.

“The Border Force is the face of Britain for anyone arriving into this country.

“And so it’s hugely important that that is a really welcoming and efficient face for the UK that gives people the impression we want them to have when the come into the country – and not a six-and-a-half hour queue.”

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Last month, Mr Holland-Kaye’s colleague Emma Gilthorpe, Heathrow’s chief operating officer, told the Home Affairs Select Committee that passengers might have to be kept waiting on planes to ease the pressure inside the airport terminals. Ms Gilthorpe suggested the trigger point was “40-50 per cent” of normal numbers.

The UK Border Force says its five priorities are to:

  • deter and prevent individuals and goods that would harm the national interests from entering the UK

  • facilitate the legitimate movement of individuals and trade to and from the UK

  • protect and collect customs revenues for trade crossing the border

  • provide excellent service to customers

  • provide demonstrable effectiveness, efficiency and value for money

The Heathrow chief executive also called for clarity on dates for resuming travel at scale.

At present the airport is operating with only two of its four terminals, Terminal 2 and Terminal 5.

Mr Holland-Kaye said bringing another terminal back into service – which would initially be Terminal 3 – would require at least eight weeks to be fully up and running.