Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Immigration Controls Hampered By Weather

Yesterday David Cameron sent Damian Green, the immigration minister, to Heathrow to investigate the problem of lengthy delays at passport checks.  Some mischievious journalists suggested the move was to divert attention from calls for Jeremy Hunt's resignation over his handling of the BSkyB deal and who am I to dispute that.

It seems new arrivals at Heathrow's Terminal 5 said they waited more than two hours to be allowed into the country amid warnings the airport was near to breaking point.  Travellers have been confronted with empty border control desks and with the delays exacerbated by the failure of iris scanner brought in to speed up the processing of passports.  The iris recognition system has cost just over £9m - but has only been used 4.7 million times, at a cost of £2 per passenger scanned.  Earlier this year the Westminster government said the costly system was being scrapped after revealing that the software used was out of date.  Another appalling waste of money.

But it wasn't the iris scanners to blame for the fiasco at Heathrow.  According to the government it was the weather.  'The recent heavy rain across the south of England was the main cause of the chaotic scenes at Heathrow airport' reports the Independent.  Surprisingly the government didn't attribute the problem to climate change.  Then again, with evidence such as this filtering through into the public domain, perhaps the mention of climate change has been demoted on the list of No 10's fear-mongering excuses.

It's around 10 years since I travelled via Heathrow . Compared to Schiphol Heathrow was claustrophobic, the toilets dirty and the staff utterly disinterested. Upon returning to the UK I waited over half an hour to be cleared and that was late evening. The queue for non-EU arrivals extended out of sight.

Why can't Heathrow cope?  Part of the answer is that it is poorly staffed. Damian Green's answer was to fly immigration officers from Manchester to Heathrow to staff desks in an attempt to alleviate the disruption, thereby leaving Manchester short of staff. Another reason is the system. It's obvious it is useless for the amount of people passing through each day.  These numbers haven't increased overnight, they've been growing for the past 20 years.

Westminster has become a reactive rather than proactive government. Fifty years ago politicians would have ensured our immigration control system worked effectively. Today it's a mess and Keith Mills, the deputy chairman of Games organiser Locog, is panicking: 'The chaos plaguing the airport has already taken its toll on passengers arriving to do business connected to the London Olympics'. Awe, poor souls. Sponsors, business executives and major broadcasters are suffering the Heathrow hassle experience 'every day; he said.

Damian Green may have boosted the staffing temporarily in time for Olympic visitors but what about other visitors? It's six months since Theresa May was involved in the border checks scandal, the result being Brodie Clark quitting his job while accusing her of lying. The system is as chaotic as ever.

Since my last visit to Heathrow I decided it would be my last and now use Schiphol or Zurich.  Both airports are highly efficient, clean and provide excellent customer facilities.  I'm fortunate because I can choose to avoid London airports and Heathrow in particular. Others aren't so lucky and even if they possess an EU passport, being told they will queue for no longer than 90 minutes (Damian Green's guidelines), will be little consolation.  Especially if it's raining when they step on UK tarmac.


Jman On Sunday said...

Totally off topic but an interesting link on Facebook led me to this blog post:

Very weird that there have been no Scottish polls on the run up to the local elections.

Crinkly & Ragged Arsed Philosophers said...

Are you sure the photo is not of people trying to leave the country?

Crinkly & Ragged Arsed Philosophers said...

Jman - Too busy concentrating on London's mayoral bun fight which, of course the rest of the country is watching with baited breath irrespective of whether it has any significance to their locality.

Arguably of course it has a significant role as the parasitic sump for the UKs economic hinterlands and as the centre of the UK media universe.

Macheath said...

Some years ago, passing through a UK airport, I noticed a sign announcing that they were installing automatic gates to be ready for the Olympics (and apologised for any incovenience etc)

The gates are now there, but whether they are ready is quite another matter - as is the public willingness to use them.

The spouse has a steam-driven passport and can't; I have a new one, but am not prepared to waste time locating the Spouse at baggage reclaim.

In any case, my passport has never worked in the gates even though it's supposed to - and judging by recent observation, I'm not the only one. On my most recent flight, a handful of passengers successfully used the gates and everyone else stood in line for the (not very) manned desks.

My guess is that they counted on the gates processing up to 50% of the travelling public by now and reduced staffing levels accordingly.

RMcGeddon said...

The main problem is that the political parties don't really believe in border control so they are loathe to spend much money on it and would prefer to just shuffle resources around the country to fill in any short term gaps. This is why it doesn't matter whether Labour or the Tories are in power. The problem stays the same.
My memories of Heathrow are sitting on the plane waiting for steps to arrive at the aircraft. Then queuing on a stairwell to get to a bus for transfer and queuing at immigration to be interviewed by a turbaned gentleman asking where I've been and what I've been up to.
Gatwick is better as you can transfer to domestic flights in the same building.

Anonymous said...

The BIJ is reporting that the IRIS recognition gates have been scrapped.

They are about 7 years old and have never functioned correctly. They have been removed from Manchester and Birmingham Airports as being more a hindrance than a working tool.

Staff numbers cuts meant that no one was trained on machines anyway.

Words like piss, brewer and up come to mind. That and chickens headless.

Joe Public said...

Of course it must have been the weather, Rosie.

The Government spends £millions of Taxpayers' money via the Met Office to provide accurate weather forecasts, so prepared accordingly:-

"Met Office 3-month Outlook
Period: April – June 2012 Issue date: 23.03.12

The forecast for average UK rainfall slightly favours drier than average conditions for April-May-June as a whole, and also slightly favours April being the driest of the 3 months. With this forecast, the water resources situation in southern, eastern and central England is likely to deteriorate further during the April-May-June period. The probability that UK precipitation for April-May-June will fall into the driest of our five categories is 20-25% whilst the probability that it will fall into the wettest of our five categories is 10-15% (the 197-2000 climatological probability for each of these categories is 20%)."

Visual proof here.

Anonymous said...

Oh dear... There's not much left for them to make a mess of now.

What will they do when everything is totally broken? Start on Scotland?

Hamish said...

I don't fly much these days, but go direct whenever possible and do my best to avoid Heathrow.
Under pressure from my environmentally conscious son, which I commend, i no longer fly on journeys within masinland UK.
Recently returning from Germany to Edinburgh, I encountersd a 40 minute delay passing through immigration control The official when I got to the desk was friendly and apologised for tbe wait. Flight delays had resulted in five internsational flights landing within a few minutes of each other.
Ge expressed some irritation that "the airlines did not inform us". Otherwise he was totally disinterested, as he should be.
Aw, pedantically yours, Hamish.

subrosa said...

Thanks for that link Jman. I'd already read Hazel's post but perhaps some others missed it.

Strange indeed.

subrosa said...

Thanks for that link Jman. I'd already read Hazel's post but perhaps some others missed it.

Strange indeed.

subrosa said...

Do we have to queue to get out now too these days Crinkly?

subrosa said...

I have a new type too Macheath but as it's only a couple of months old I have yet to use it. Will be interesting to see the result.

Must check if they have gates at Edinburgh...

subrosa said...

Must admit I don't mind Gatwick RM, although I find all London airports dirty.

subrosa said...

Yes Lupus, one of the post's links mentions that.

They come to my mind too.

subrosa said...

Thanks for that Joe. I don't know what I'd do without you to cheer me up.

subrosa said...

If they get a chance Tris.

subrosa said...

Although I understand your wish to preserve the environment Hamish, it's obvious if I had to get to the south of England as quickly as possible, air travel would be the way to go. The very thought of train or bus travel and all the changes involved would certainly deter me.

Seems a bit of bad management there Hamish. I always thought they held arrivals back if there was a possibility they arrive en masse.

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