Something To Declare: Fingerprinting, Moscow, Zambia


Warning of the week: prepare to be fingerprinted

At present, Britain does not routinely fingerprint airline passengers (see page 3 for the US attitude). But starting two months from tomorrow, several million travellers each year will have their fingerprints, and photograph, taken twice before being allowed aboard a domestic flight.

Anyone flying on British Airways from Heathrow to Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester or Newcastle from 27 March will get the mugshot-and-prints treatment when they enter the security search area, and again before they board the plane. The reason: the design of Terminal 5.

BA's new Heathrow home has only a single, very large departure lounge. Passengers who are transiting from one BA international flight to another will go through only a security check before entering this area, and will not be processed by UK immigration officials. But the single-lounge arrangement offers a potential loophole for people aiming to enter Britain clandestinely.

This is how it could work: Passenger A flies from Moscow to Heathrow, ostensibly to change planes for an onward connection to Montreal. Passenger B, who lives in Britain, checks in for a flight to Manchester. Once in the departure lounge, he meets Mr A and hands over the Manchester boarding pass.

Mr A has already sourced a fake driving licence; it bears his picture but Mr B's name (such convincing fake documentation is easily obtainable, as anyone who has spent a couple of hours on the Khao San Road in Bangkok will know). As far as the hard-pressed gate agent for the Manchester flight is concerned, the passenger has a boarding pass and driving licence that match, and on he goes.

At Manchester, passengers arriving on domestic flights are not checked. Mr A can wander off wherever he pleases. Mr B, meanwhile, is carrying his own valid passport and simply joins the queue for arrivals. The plane to Montreal takes off with Mr A's seat empty, but the airline and authorities have no way of knowing what has become of the passenger.

The only way to avert such behaviour, says the Border and Immigration Agency, is to take the right-hand fingerprints and photograph of every domestic passenger, to make sure that the people presenting themselves at the gate are the same folk who checked in.

Passengers who prefer not to undergo this procedure can fly from Terminal 1 – which still has a domestic area – on BMI, or choose other airports in the London area.

Destination of the week: midnight plane to Moscow

Next month, travellers to the Russian capital will have another flight option, when BMI (0870 60 70 555; www.flybmi.com) doubles its daily flights from Heathrow to Moscow. Starting 30 March, the airline plans a departure from Heathrow at 10.10pm every evening, arriving at Moscow at 5am next morning. The inbound aircraft gets back to Britain at 7.50am, which means travellers from the London area with plenty of energy can enjoy 48 hours in Moscow without missing a day at work. BMI, like BA, serves the city's Domodedovo airport – a far better prospect than Sheremetyevo, where Aeroflot is based.

The airline is also boosting flights between Heathrow and Manchester from April, with a late evening link switched from Leeds/Bradford to Manchester. The Heathrow-Inverness link is to be abandoned. Peter Spencer, BMI's managing director, blamed "punitive" taxes and inflation-busting airport charges.

Bargain of the week: Zambia

Lusaka rarely features as a "late-availability" bargain, but British Airways has included the Zambian capital in its current range of short-notice bargains; the airline has begun to promote these aggressively for sale through www.ba.com. A return flight between now and 19 March is available for £509 return. Other African deals include Entebbe and Dar es Salaam at £519 each, and Nairobi for £399.

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