With the Olympics only 85 days away, the prospect of frustratingly long queues at Passport Control and Immigration at Heathrow Airport is concentrating the minds of government ministers keen to ensure that the massive event goes ahead without a hitch. The spotlight will be on London over the summer and disgruntled passengers complaining about interminable queues are not what the organisers want. Around 660,000 extra visitors will travel through Heathrow, adding to the peak traffic that the summer always brings, and with numbers of Border Control staff lost to job cuts, the pressure is on to find a solution. Short term plans involve using retired and redundant staff volunteers to ensure that all possible Arrivals desks are manned but that does not solve the long term problems. Cash strapped UK Border Control Force is going to have to put together a good case to convince ministers that more people are needed on the ground when Home Office ministers in the Commons report that waiting times were only 1.5 hours against the realistic version of 2.5 hours.
One solution is for airlines to be asked to pay more for better services, but with each passenger already paying £19.30 in arrivals taxes alone, part of which already goes towards airport services, the question of airline responsibility for UK Immigration is not being well received. Airport taxes have risen considerably and passengers are struggling with their own finances in tough economic times. Leisure travel sales are down and airport problems are not going to encourage tourism to the UK, Oympics year or not, unless the perceived and actual experience can be improved swiftly.