Olympics: Tempers rise over long queues at Heathrow

London: The London Olympics are three months away, but long queues building up to clear immigration at Heathrow have frayed tempers and sparked off concern at the state of preparedness to deal with thousands of people scheduled to arrive for the flagship event.

Citizens from non-EU countries are currently experiencing a wait of between two and three hours to clear immigration, with queues spilling into other areas of the airport, as witnessed by this correspondent last week.

Earlier this week, a senior Olympics official reportedly lodged a complaint after being stuck in immigration queues at Heathrow.

The event is scheduled from 27 July to 13 August, but individuals associated with the Olympics have already started arriving, besides the normal traffic.

The UK Border Agency, which is responsible for immigration controls at airports, 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 Olympics secretary Jeremy 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.

Shashank Nigam, chief executive of an airline marketing company, told The Sunday Times that he had queued for two hours and 50 minutes earlier this week, and added: "To my horror, the queues were spilling into the overflow area and there weren`t enough staff to manage everyone." ?

BAA, which owns the Heathrow airport, said it was experiencing high levels of arrivals at the airport, while a UK Border Agency spokesman said they refused to compromise security but will aim to keep disruption to passengers to a minimum.


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