There are fears that the United Kingdom's outdated border controls could become a national disgrace in London's Olympic year.
Digital Journal recently warned of Easter gridlock affecting air passenger arrivals in the United Kingdom but according to the Board of Airline Representatives in the UK (BAR UK), the situation could get much, much worse and become a national embarrassment in this, the year of the London Olympics.
BAR UK fears that what it considers to be outdated border and immigration controls in the UK could see some airline arrivals having to spend more time in UK immigration halls than they have spent in the air.
BAR UK is an organisation which represents over 86 scheduled airlines in the UK in their dealings with Government, Government Departments, Regulators and Airport Operators. Their concern emanates from the latest forecast by the UK based Immigration Services Union that passport delays for travellers entering the UK could last from three to four hours as a matter of routine. Such delays, they say, would be a national embarrassment and would have a seriously detrimental effect on the UK economy.
According to BAR UK, the UK Border Agency, which is part of the British Home Office, a government department, and has responsibility for policing UK borders, needs to adopt improved processes and make better use of available information. Failure to do so could mean visitors, travellers and businessmen to the UK taking their custom elsewhere.
Bar UK claims that the need to ensure full border checks can be managed against the steady growth of air travel. They say the current over-reliance on manual systems of checking passports, visas and immigration papers will simply result in longer queues. As a consequence, increasingly larger immigration halls would need to be built to cope with the throngs of people waiting at airports to enter the UK.
Mike Carrivick, chief executive of BAR UK said,
"The efforts of the Border Force to handle peak periods such as bank holidays and the Olympics are well-recognised but cannot be sustained without necessary changes. The airline community already cooperates by providing advance access to the passport data of approximately 90 million travellers each year, all of whom can be checked against a watch list to identify those who pose a threat or who should not be in the UK."
"Allied to that, airlines would also like to see an increase in the number of smart gates, that permit automated entry through the use of chip-enabled passports, and the re-introduction of smartzones. Collectively, huge improvements can be made to the queues to enter the UK without compromising the Government's need for full border controls.
"We call upon the Government to speed up entry into the UK by investing now in the technology and systems which will allow far more efficient use of available information and resources, without compromising on security."
The real test will come when the London Olympics hit town between July 27 and August 12 this year. Those dates are overlapped by one of the busiest periods for holiday travellers in and out of the UK.
Estimates vary for the number of tourists and athletes who will be heading for the Olympics in the UK this summer. The City of London puts the additional spectator numbers at around 500,000 (including UK nationals). To that has to be added a further 200,000 or so athletes, coaches and Olympic administrators from around the globe. The latter numbers may seem small but, of course, for the UK Border Agency controls, they will be concentrated over a relatively short time scale and could result in intolerable delays for travellers and athletes alike.