Passengers handed ‘apology leaflets’ after having to wait up to three hours before clearing passport control at Heathrow
Heathrow Airport has been ordered by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) to stop handing out to passengers leaflets acknowledging the “very long delays” at immigration, which have become a serious government concern in the runup to the Olympics.
Passengers flying into the airport at the weekend reported having to wait for up to three hours before clearing passport control. But after leaflets apologising for the problem were handed out by BAA, which owns Heathrow, the UKBA warned that they were “inappropriate” and that ministers would take “a very dim view”.
The airport operator was also told to prevent passengers taking pictures in the arrivals hall, according to the Daily Telegraph, which obtained correspondence from Marc Owen, director of UKBA operations at Heathrow. Pictures of lengthy queues have been posted on Twitter by frustrated travellers.
Owen said: “The leaflet … is both inflammatory and likely to increase tensions in arrivals halls especially in the current atmosphere. It is inappropriate in that it is not for you to display how to complain on our behalf. Please refrain from handing out [the leaflets] or I will escalate [the matter] with ministers who are likely to take a very dim view. I know there are copies in the hall and your troops are ready with them.”
Jim Fitzpatrick, Labour’s aviation spokesman, said: “This is a pure coverup. I can understand people wanting to take pictures of the queues. This is further evidence of Border Force trying to hide the severity of the problem.
“Passengers need to know how to register complaints and for Border Force to try to prevent them doing so is outrageous.”
The Border Force and BAA said in a joint statement: “The majority of passengers pass through immigration control quickly but there are sometimes delays at airports for a range of reasons. We think it’s important passengers are given the full picture.
“We will not compromise border security, but we will work together to keep delays to a minimum.”
Damian Green, the immigration minister, has been called before the home affairs select committee about the problem. Its chairman, Keith Vaz, said there was “a real problem”. “I’m not saying we should abandon checks, but it’s a choice for the government – you either look at the way you deal with people when they arrive at Heathrow, or you recruit more staff.”