Airlines warn of possible delays at UK immigration Border

UK airlines are warning of potential delays at airports during Easter and during the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations due to tougher immigration checks at border control.

The British Air Transport Association (BATA) is calling on UK ministers and the immigration department to increase staffing or consider a risk-based approach to screening specific passengers at passport control. BAA, which operates Heathrow airport, is also calling for extra staffing to deal with passport and visa checks, saying that immigration queues can become especially long during peak travel times.

The government has imposed tougher immigration checks following last year's row in which immigration officials relaxed passport and visa checks beyond agreed limits.

Simon Buck, chief executive of BATA, said in a letter to UK home secretary Theresa May on 21 March that the UK Border Force "will almost certainly struggle to manage the volume of passengers" because of the government's decision to introduce more stringent passport and visa checks.

"The subsequent impact on airline operations, passenger experience and satisfaction could be significant, especially at peak travel times such as Easter or during the Queen's Jubilee celebrations," Buck said, adding that over time this "would also have a significant economic impact given the very significant share of business passengers at our busiest airports, principally Heathrow."

Buck claimed that if immigration halls at airports become congested due to long queues at passport control, airlines would be forced to keep passengers on the airplane, which could jeopardise the operation of subsequent flights.

"This is a concern to all BATA members. The possibility of disruption may appear remote, but there is a real danger of this becoming a reality if more support is not provided to the Border Force," said Buck.

The UK Border Force responded as follows: "We will not compromise border security, but we always aim to keep disruption to a minimum by using our staff flexibly to meet demand. Carrying out full checks at airports help us stop threats from terrorists, criminals and others who want to harm the UK and make sure that only those with the right to enter the UK can do so."

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