Immigration `chaos` at Heathrow airport?
London: With less than two months to go for the London Olympics, tempers rose at the Heathrow airport last night after long queues and delays to clear immigration prompted frustrated passengers to brand the experience as `omni-megashambles` and `chaos`.
Angry passengers reported that there were only three immigration officials on duty last night to clear thousands of passengers from outside the UK and European Union.
There were four officials clearing passengers from within the European Union.
Similar problems have been reported for several days, including by passengers from India.
Many flights from India land in London in the evening.
Alistair Campbell, communications director to former Prime Minister Tony Blair, was one of the thousands of passengers stuck in long queues last night.
He said only three to four border staff were on duty for EU arrivals and just three for passengers coming from outside Europe.
He tweeted: "If this is what Heathrow T5 border queue is like on an average Thursday, Olympic athletes should think about coming soon".
Campbell had this to say to Olympics secretary Jeremy Hunt, who is currently under pressure to quit for alleged proximity to the Rupert Murdoch`s company: "Jeremy Hunt should get down to Heathrow and do a bit of pre-Olympics border control recce work. Take his mind off things".
Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee said the will demand improvements from Immigration minister Damian Green when he appears before it next month.
London Mayor Boris Johnson said: "We have to get this sorted. London`s the business capital of the world and we can’t allow this position to be undermined, putting economic growth and jobs at risk".
The UK Border Agency, which is responsible for immigration controls at airports and has been subjected to funding cuts, is likely to draft in extra staff to deal with the larger number of passengers for the Olympics.
Besides passengers and officials related to the Olympics, concern over delay at immigration has also been expressed by MPs, who believe that "far less thought seems to have been given to the issue of how to deal with long queues at immigration".
In a letter to Hunt, the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee said the issue of long immigration queues would have several impacts, including jeopardising future visits by people who arrive for the Olympics.
John Whittingdale, chairman of the committee, wrote: "While visiting tourists will understand that the Olympics is a busy time, if the wait is in excess of an hour then it may deter tourists from returning".
He added: "The second impact may be that planes cannot
unload their passengers into the terminal due to capacity being exceeded. This would lead to circling in the air, planes being left on runways or planes blocking gates".
Noting that the proportion of passengers entering Heathrow from outside the European Union "may be significantly higher than usual" during the Olympics, Whittingdale said it would result in a longer process at immigration checks.
"We also understand that the flight schedule is not changing in any way and there was no suggestion that any contingency has been made for, perhaps, extra time being made to remove items from aeroplanes or for the unloading of passengers," he wrote.
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