Travellers from outside the EU will be able to start using ePassport gates at UK airports, Chancellor Philip Hammond announced during his Budget speech on 29 October.
Currently, only those with a UK, EU, European Economic Area (EEA) or Swiss biometric passport who are over 18 can access the gates, which use facial recognition technology to check passengers’ faces match the presented passport photo.
However, access to these gates will now extend to travellers from the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, meaning people from these countries can breeze through electronic passport control rather than having to wait for a member of the border force to check their travel documents.
The news comes after British airports hit headlines this summer for long wait times at border control.
The Independent reported that the UK Border Force achieved its queueing time target at Heathrow airport on just one day in July, according to data sourced by Virgin Atlantic.
The airline called on the government to improve wait times at immigration after it revealed that some passengers from outside the EEA had to queue for more than two and a half hours. The Border Force has a target of processing 95 per cent of passengers from non-EEA countries within 45 minutes.
British Airways’ CEO Alex Cruz called the situation “unacceptable” and “a farce”, while Virgin Atlantic’s chief executive, Craig Kreeger, said the UK needed to show it was “open for business".
“We are calling on the home secretary to allow low-risk passengers from non-EU countries such as the US and Canada to use e-gates, in the same way as our EU friends can,” a Heathrow Airport spokesperson said at the time; the government clearly took note.
Chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, Karen Dee, said in response to the news that ePassport gates will now become more accessible: “Extending the use of ePassport gates to citizens of trusted allies is great news for the customer experiences at our international gateways.
“We are pleased to see that Government has listened to the concerns of airlines and airports about the deteriorating border experience in recent years with this announcement. It could be transformational for those airports with high numbers of arrivals from those countries.”
Hammond also addressed Air Passenger Duty (APD) in his 2018 Autumn Budget. The tax, which applies to all commercial aircraft flying out of UK airports, will remain the same for short haul flights, but increase for long haul journeys from April 2020.
Long haul APD will increase by £2 for passengers in economy and by £4 for those flying in premium economy, business and first class.
IAG, British Airways’ parent company, called the tax “outdated” and called for it to be scrapped in a statement.
It said: “It’s ironic that this Brexit budget has undermined Britain’s global competitiveness by upping Air Passenger Duty, the world’s highest aviation tax, again.
“Last year, British Airways’ passengers paid £682 million in APD. We want to offer more flights to key trading markets, like our European competitors, but APD stifles route development to new emerging markets.
“This outdated tax also costs UK jobs and growth. If Britain wants to compete on the global stage post Brexit, it should be scrapped now.”
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