Boris Johnson (inset), London’s Mayor, today warned that the UK’s reputation abroad is going to take a battering thanks to the ongoing delays for passengers at the country’s biggest airport, Heathrow.
The stark warning comes amid heightening concerns over the lengthy queues at immigration checkpoints facing foreign visitors upon arrival at Heathrow Airport. According to the Telegraph, there has been a significant rise in the number of complaints from foreign air travelers, some of whom have had to wait over an hour to pass through immigration.
The delays have been blamed on increased security measures at Britain’s biggest airport, which involve each passenger’s passport and visa being carefully scrutinized. In addition, officials cite a shortfall in border staff at Heathrow.
In a leaked letter sent from Mr. Johnson to the UK Home Secretary Theresa May, the mayor warned that the long delays were leaving foreign visitors with a “terrible impression” of the UK.
Mr. Johnson went on to demand that the Home Secretary take immediate action to resolve the delays before an expected increase in the number of visitors to Britain this summer. With celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s tenure as monarch due to take place in June, and the London Olympics set to kick off on July 27, Heathrow Airport is set to see record passenger arrivals at a time when it is already struggling to cope.
In his letter to the Home Secretary, Johnson said that the Heathrow delays threatened to overshadow a golden opportunity to promote the UK’s image abroad:
“This summer, with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the London Games, gives us a once in generation’s opportunity to promote what is very best about London and the U.K. It is critical for the success of these events that visitors from across the globe have a great experience from beginning to the end of their stay.”
According to Johnson, around 80% of those visiting the UK to attend the London Olympics would be arriving through Heathrow Airport, which is currently handling 190,000 passengers a day. Such an influx in passenger arrivals will place “additional short-term pressures” on the airport, explained Johnson.
BAA Ltd., which operates Heathrow Airport, has already called for an increase in the number of border staff at the airport to alleviate the delays. The airport experienced a similar situation during the summer of 2011, when authorities were forced to relax immigration checks to be able to handle the increased traffic.
However, while the shortage in manpower is obvious, BAA insisted that the Heathrow delays were not a major problem, insisting that the delays were due to a variety of factors:
“The majority of passengers pass through immigration control quickly but there are sometimes delays at airports for a range of reasons.”
The operator added that under no circumstances will it compromise the UK’s border security, but it will strive to reduce the waiting time passengers face at immigration checkpoints.
Just another example of bad PR.