Simon Kelner: Games without frontiers, bordering on the absurd

Kelner's view

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The Independent Online

If irony was an Olympic sport, there would almost be no point in anyone else turning up. Get ready to hear God Save The Queen and let your heart swell with national pride. I'm not sure the hundreds of visitors to Britain at Heathrow Border Control the other day would have appreciated the high humour of the situation, but there they were, snaking their way to passport and visa checks underneath a huge British Airways advertisement about the Olympics. "We're Ready," it proclaimed. You couldn't make it up. Ready? By the look of things in the immigration hall, you would think we were ready only to host the finals of the multi-national queuing tournament (another sport in which we might be among the favourites for gold).

As a citizen of the mighty European Union, however, I breezed through passport control, immediately picked up my luggage and left Terminal 5 within 20 minutes of my plane landing.

I couldn't help wondering what the fuss was all about and was certainly bemused by the comment by Boris Johnson that the delays suffered by passengers at Heathrow gave a "terrible impression of the UK". And what impression would that be, Mr Mayor? Like, we are a country that takes security seriously? Like, at a time of high risk with the Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee, we are not going to compromise the safety of our citizens? Incidentally, I overheard a couple of Americans complaining about the time it took them to get through immigration. Hello? Have they tried entering their very own country as a non-US citizen? On my last visit to the States, I was almost four hours in LA airport among the tired, the poor and the huddled masses in scenes that were not exactly consistent with a welcome to the world's most advanced, most prosperous country.

Notwithstanding all this, clearly something has gone wrong with the Border Agency and it's easy to understand the furious reactions of visitors who, after a long journey with little more to sustain them than beef that tastes like chicken (or vice versa) and a selection of rom-coms that they never wanted to see anyway, are faced with another couple of hours added to their travelling time.

Nevertheless, I didn't notice the chaotic scenes that some reports have described. People seemed to take the disruption in their (very slow) stride. Perhaps they had been warned before they left their place of origin. Certainly, the management of expectations has become a recent, and welcome, tactic employed by airlines. On checking in for my flight home, I was told that the on-board entertainment system would not be working. (Oh damn, I thought, I was rather looking forward to that Jennifer Aniston vehicle I'd never heard of.)

All passengers were given a form on which they could register their complaint and seek compensation. This is a very clever move: you're really annoying your customers, but at the same time you're treating them well; being upfront and honest and showing you care.

And as I was filling in the form, I thought this was a novel thing: complaining before anything has actually gone wrong. Come to think of it, is complaining in the Olympics? Surely, there's another gold medal waiting for Britain.