UK aviation regulator prepares for ‘disorderly’ Brexit
Virgin Atlantic has joined the growing list of airlines expressing concerns about immigration queues at London Heathrow Airport.
The UK long-haul carrier, which operates the second largest route network from the airport after British Airways, has called for action from the UK Border Force, the UK government agency responsible for immigration, to reduce the waiting times.
The airline said Aug. 13 that some international visitors have been left waiting for more than 2 hr. 30 min. before clearing immigration. A combination of high-profile events and more favorable exchange rates have led to increased visitor rates to the UK, but when coupled with an “under-resourced Border Force,” the result has been “excessively long queue times,” it said.
Virgin said the UK Border Force has a service level agreement to process at least 95% of non-European Economic Area (EEA) passengers, such as those from the US or China, through immigration within 45 min.
However, in July there was only one day when this target was met, and the longest queue time occurred on July 6 when non-EEA visitors spent up to 2 hr. 36 min. waiting in immigration queues.
“We all agree that security and safety at our airports is vital and remains our top priority, but other countries are managing their borders more effectively,” Virgin Atlantic CEO Craig Kreeger said. “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.”
The issue is becoming more acute as the UK gears up for its departure from the European Union, or Brexit, next March. The UK will no longer be a member of the EEA, which means that passengers from the EEA will likely face the same level of scrutiny as those from non-EEA states, potentially leading to even longer queues for visitors…