The boss of the UK’s busiest airport has warned that immigration desks should not be abandoned by border officials again when England play in the World Cup semi-final.
Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye claimed a “lack of staffing” during England’s second round game against Colombia on July 3 led to long queues with some arriving passengers at Terminal 4 forced to wait three hours before being processed.
Despite 28 immigration officers being on duty, just 11 desks were manned which is half the typical number, Mr Holland-Kaye stated in a letter to Paul Lincoln, head of Border Force.
“This seems to me to be a failure of leadership,” he wrote.
“Please can I have your written assurance that we will not see a repeat of these events in any terminal on Wednesday evening.”
When a terminal is as congested as Terminal 4 was on July 3 it is a “serious health and safety hazard”, according to Mr Holland-Kaye, which can only be alleviated by holding arriving passengers on planes until queues subside.
The Airport Operators Association recently warned that arriving passengers “regularly face long queues” at UK airports, and Border Force’s targets are “no longer fit for purpose”.
The Home Office said the flow of passengers at Heathrow on July 3 was partially affected by a computer system used for checking visas temporarily failing.
Immigration officials also had to deal with a high number of vulnerable adults and children, and arriving flights were heavily loaded with non-European Economic Area passengers who take longer to process.
A Home Office spokesman said: “Every effort is made to keep delays at the border to a minimum, but we also have a duty to maintain the security of the UK border – which means checking 100% of scheduled arriving passengers.
“We are committed to ensuring that Border Force has the resources it needs to keep the UK safe and we are deploying 200 additional staff at London Heathrow over the summer.”