Queues to enter UK 'appalling' as Games approach


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The Independent Online

The two peak Olympic travel days at Heathrow will see a 45 per cent increase in passenger numbers. 138,000 passengers are due to arrive in the country's largest airport on 26 July and depart on 13 August.

Labour MP Keith Vaz has said he was "appalled" by the length of immigration queues at Heathrow Airport after paying a visit yesterday, while operator BAA agreed that the lines of people left trying to get through customs were "unacceptably long".

The chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee made a spot check at 7am, when he claimed that non-EU passengers were left waiting more than an hour despite the target time of 45 minutes at the airport.

As international athletes begin to descend on London for the Olympic Games, Mr Vaz called for Immigration Minister Damian Green to explain why half the immigration desks at Heathrow Airport were closed despite the delays yesterday.

"I was appalled by the length of queues in the immigration hall," Mr Vaz said. "The worst aspect was that half of the immigration desks were simply not opened even though the Border Force had prior knowledge of all flight arrivals. This creates additional security pressures with luggage piling up in the baggage hall."

He added: "We look forward to hearing the Immigration Minister's explanation for this."

Mr Vaz's comments come before Mr Green appears before a select committee hearing on the border chaos plaguing the country's largest airport.

On Sunday, shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper accused her Conservative counterpart Theresa May of failing to ensure adequate numbers of staff were deployed at peak times, and said the idea of top Olympic competitors waiting for more than two hours was a "disgrace".

But despite a leaked memo revealing that even European visitors are waiting 15 minutes longer than the 25-minute target, Mr Green insisted the Government's actions to tackle queues "have resulted in real improvement over the last two months".

"And by the start of peak Olympic arrivals in less than 10 days, there will be up to 500 additional staff on our rotas across the country – this includes enough staff at Heathrow to cover every desk during busy times," he said.

"Additionally we have special lanes in place designated to Olympic athletes to enable them to pass through the border without delay," Mr Green added.

A Border Force spokesman said Mr Vaz's claims of hour-long waits were incorrect, but official figures showed the non-EU passenger waiting time yesterday morning was 56 minutes.