14 Feb 2011

Welcome to the UK. Hurry up and wait!

Re-entering the UK through Heathrow’s Terminal 3, courtesy of Egypt Air, felt as if the pre-Christmas ice age and its consequences were still with us. Accepting that BAA is trying to rebuild the thing, nevertheless, yesterday, the service provided an utterly undignified welcome to Britain.

Whether the blame lay with BAA or the UK Border Agency, the queues at immigration wound many times round the immigration hall. Half the desks were unstaffed at 1.00pm on Sunday, (lunch break? cuts?) there were some 1500 people waiting – even the ‘fast track’ took 30 minutes, the main queues had all the characteristics of the old US arrivals scene at JFK where one used to queue for over an hour.

To crown it all, the ‘iris’ recognition system, which I have used for the past two years and which normally takes a mere two minutes, was broken, both booths taped off.

My several trips in and out of Egypt on both BA and the Egyptian national airline have revived the old hobby horse that I have visited before in Snowblog – security. Whilst at Heathrow all liquids had to be ‘see-through’ plastic bagged, and removed from luggage, together with laptops, and boots removed – at Cairo, not one of these measures was pursued either by the Egyptian authorities or the airlines.

The ‘liquids’ issue continues to be a farce. The removal of laptops from luggage continues to be haphazard. There continues to be a need for an international ruling as to whether any of these measures are either relevant, or necessary, or whether they are simply designed to instil fear and vigilance in the hearts of the travelling public. If the latter, the measure has failed as badly as its enforcement has!

Tweets by @jonsnowC4

14 reader comments

  1. Paul Begley says:

    I suspect that “iris recognition system” is the reason my recent passport renewal cost me around £200, as I had to submit several sets of indistinguishable (to me, anyway) photographs before one was deemed acceptable.

  2. David Smith says:

    The airport ‘war on liquids’ etc is plain security theatre. There are numerous incidents, especially in the US with the TSA, of inconsistent and heavy-handed approaches that have little if any security benefit.

    Legal blogger Jack of Kent posted a trouser-related airport security story on his blog yesterday – http://jackofkent.blogspot.com/2011/02/my-trousers-and-airport-security.html

  3. adrian clarke says:

    Jon,it sounds a bit like broken Britain,and the legacy left by the useless lot who call themselves “Labour”
    When i read today that 1000’s of illegal immigrants are not only walking our streets , but are claiming benefits.That terrorists are being released onto our streets after 5 years jail and not being deported.That 3/4 of council execs earn more than the prime minister yet will oversee cuts in front line services rather than the useless jobs many of them created.
    Your experience does not surprise me, and all i can say is i am glad i do not fly :)

    1. anniexf says:

      Adrian, do you get all your opinions straight from the Daily Mail?

    2. adrian clarke says:

      Annie i am a newspaper distributor and have access to all major newspapers,The figures i mentioned in this blog;
      Immigrants ;daily mail but repeated in several others
      Terrorists; daily telegraph
      Council ;The dreaded Guardian.
      I read , look at web sites and form my own opinion.You aught to know that by now :)
      P.S also formed by the jobs i have had

  4. margaret brandreth-jones says:

    and we can feel your irritation. Happy Valentines to Jon and all. I myself will be buying a dozen red roses for the most important person in my life .. me.

    Sunday staff remember are on double pay, so companies have to balance it off by only putting half the staff on duty.

    I was debating whether there would be a blog today and then I thought well you would probably write it on the plane. This is not so though and a rush of anger has touched the keys this a.m.

    An interesting analysis was on a prog last night, regards the weather conditions, which prevented flights and take offs from UK airports in comparison to Countries which suffer cold snowy conditions for many months. You have guessed it ..it is our temperate climate which is so inconsistent and changes to slush, ice and back to snow so much in 24 hrs that preparation is almost impossible.

  5. R.McGeddon says:

    Have you forgotten that Tony Blair once had Army tanks parked outside this Country’s airports ????

    As I am sure you are aware, we are a target for extremists because of our involvement with the Bush/Blair war in Irag and our invasion of Afghanistan.

    ‘The price of freedom is eternal vigilance’ Thomas Jefferson.

    1. ColinT says:

      And that’s why I avoid at all costs the hellhole called Heathrow and the staff there who seem to have had all traces of humanity extracted as part of their training. But we are all criminals now, aren’t we? All under surveillance, all under suspicion and all on trail – in the airport, on the street, on Facebook, or in just about any public space you care to think of.

  6. Philip Edwards says:


    Real security concerns apart, entry measures are not meant to be efficient. They are meant to instill institutionalised fear. You get the same thing with the five “threat” levels when they are racked up and down, for which see the way US mainstream media deal with it – you couldn’t make it up……but they do.

    Now that totalitarian communism has gone the “intelligence” services have got to have something to do to justify their professionalised paranoia. (By the way, what DID happen to that “spook” blog of yours that appeared for a few hours then got removed :) )

    If you think getting into the Heathrow rat-hole can be difficult, you ought to try Kuwait International on a busy day. But if you do, bring a portable chess set with you. I once saw Sandy Gall going through there, though he had a fixer at hand and was whisked through while we mere mortals almost expired of tedium.

  7. tthurts says:

    Welcome back to England Jon!

    I have been similarly astonished by the ‘welcome’ to England after leaving the country for a brief spell.

    After visiting friends in the Netherlands I had witnessed a very relaxed and friendly Dutch security team. When I got to the metal detector I asked the Dutch guard “do you need me to give you my wallet as well?” (when emptying my pockets for loose change) the Dutch guard joked “If you want to give me your wallet… sure, I’d like the money!”. He (along with most Dutch security) is armed with a pistol or machine gun.

    Similarly, I had warm welcomes and jokes from people when visiting America, Cuba and Thailand.

    Whenever I have returned to England the long queues in colorless corridors and halls, the straight-faced officials waiting to ‘greet’ emerging tourist, migrants and nationals. “Welcome to this island, this security-driven and slightly paranoid island nation we call England.”

    We should try to shake off the isolated notions we have developed. In the modern world, it is very unhealthy.

    On a final note, good to hear you got back safely and with a positive message from Egypt!

  8. CWH says:

    It does not matter what time or day you arrive at Heathrow there is always a queue to get through security and immigration and on to your onward flight – or out of the airport.

    I did lots of travelling with my last job and hated it when I had to travel via Heathrow.

  9. Mudplugger says:

    If one of your local supermarkets always had excessive check-out queues, you’d take your business elsewhere – if they wanted to survive, they’d have to improve the check-out service.

    The trouble with Heathrow is that it has been encouraged to become the single long-haul UK hub, simply because governments like to play ‘big-willy’ – my airport’s bigger than yours – with the French, Germans, Dutch etc.

    We have plenty of airports with capacity to share out the long-haul traffic – it would save vast amounts of wasted inland travel to Heathrow and the consequent congestion etc. It would also create contingency against snow-events (remember ?), terrorism, strikes or any other single-location service interruption. This would also share out some of the economic benefits across the country, rather than sustaining the over-inflated South-East focus.

    It would also provide choice – the mantra of the free-market, which would then allow us to choose which airport to use, just like we do with supermarkets and then, guess what, the queues would disappear, the costs would decrease and the service levels would improve.

    Need any more reasons ?

  10. Dave says:

    UK airports are run for the convenience of BAA and the security teams, not for the people actually using them. I too am fed up with queuing on my return to my country from business trips abroad, the whole airport experience debilitates the business traveller, wastes time and achieves precious little. I too have experienced the absurdity of rigorous checks in one direction and an almost cursory glance coming back. How does one effect a change!?

  11. Paul says:

    Liquids are a complete ‘farce’. I recently purchased a bottle of tequila at Mexico City airport and placed it in a sealed see-through bag with the receipt. When transferring at Charles-de-Gaulle French security refused to let me through, because the bottle had been purchased outside the European Union. I then had to exit the airport and check-in the bottle with Air France at the front desk. The queues for re-entering the airport were horrendous; there were too few staff at passport control and security. Subsequently, I missed my flight and the bottle was lost in transit. Air France initially refused to pay compensation. However, the Air Users Council (AUC) was extremely helpful in obtaining compensation. Clearly, rules for liquids need to be reviewed.

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