The Heathrow queue crisis

May 09, 2012, 3:33 PM GMT+0

68% Brits say Government has handled Heathrow queues badly; 71% would keep security checks

In light of the pressure on the Home Office to reduce recent long queues at London Heathrow airport, over two thirds of the British public feel the Government has handled the problem badly, while only around one in ten say it has handled the situation well, our poll has found.

However, the results also show that more people would blame the UK Border Agency than the Government.

  • 68% of Britons say that the Government has handled the queuing problem at Heathrow badly (36% fairly badly, 32% very badly)
  • 12% think the Government has handled the recent Heathrow queuing situation well (11% fairly well, 1% very well)

The results come amid reports of waits of up to three hours at Heathrow Immigration, which have been criticised by some as hints that the capital may not be ready to cope with the influx of visitors ahead of this summer's London Olympic Games. In response, UK Home Secretary Theresa May has been ordered to draw up emergency plans in order to deal with Britain’s borders as pressure on the Government to solve the problem builds.

Border to blame

But while a quarter of Britons would blame the Government on the whole for the queue crisis, over a third feels the UK Border Agency is to blame.

  • 35% think the UK Border Agency is responsible for the Heathrow queuing situation
  • 27% say the British Government is responsible
  • 11% say it is the fault of the British Airports Authority (BAA), the operator of Heathrow
  • 2% think it is the fault of the airlines, while 2% said none of the above were responsible

Among other things, officials have attributed the problem is a result of the recent bad weather (which can disrupt plane landing schedules), the BAA, and UK Border Agency staff shortages.

Speeding up checks?

To address the issue, Prime Minister David Cameron has reportedly advised the Home Office to consider measures to speed up the immigration process where possible, such as the controversial reintroduction of less strict security checks on British and European travellers.

However, the majority of Britons say that the Government and airport security personnel should tolerate delays and continue with proper security checks in the interest of keeping Britain secure.

One in ten thinks relaxing security checks would be a good idea.

  • 71% say the Government should continue with proper security checks of incoming passengers in the interests of security, even if it means delays
  • 11% think the Government should look at ways to relax security checks on incoming passengers to help ease delays

Despite controversy, senior immigration officers at Heathrow have already revealed that security methods to combat the influx of drugs, guns and other contraband into Britain have recently been placed on hold to battle the queue crisis.

Paul O'Connor, Home Office national manager for the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), told the Guardian that customs officers believes the huge cutback in operations may have already led to an increase in small-scale drug-smuggling into the UK.

'We have actually ceased doing [anti-smuggling operations] at the moment, even though they won't say they have. Word has already got around to criminal enterprises,' he warned.

In contrast, Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, John Vine, has urged the Government to downgrade security checks at the border in order to reduce queues, feeling that it’s the best way to ease congestion, despite being a 'difficult decision'.

“My personal view is that we shouldn’t risk security at the border at all, but sometimes we have to make difficult decisions about the resources we have available and what we want to achieve,” he said.

See the survey details and full results here (page 12-13)