Heathrow under fire as passengers stuck in massive queues

Britain's border control was under fire Saturday as lawmakers and passengers alike voiced frustration about lengthy queues at London's main airport three months out from the Olympics.

Huge queues at passport control were reported on Thursday and Friday at London Heathrow, the world's busiest international passenger airport, which will be the main gateway for the 2012 Games that get under way on July 27.

Passengers waited for up to an hour on Friday to go through the checks at Terminal 5, while there were two-hour queues on Thursday for passport holders from outside the 30-country European Economic Area (EEA).

Britain's immigration minister Damian Green is to be grilled by the Home Affairs Select Committee scrutiny panel of lawmakers on the situation.

"There is a real problem," committee chairman Keith Vaz told BBC radio.

"It's literally the longest queue I've ever seen!"

"I'm not saying we should abandon checks, but it's a choice for the government -- you either look at the way you deal with people when they arrive at Heathrow or you recruit more staff.

"This is not just about the Olympics: this is about what happens before and after, it's about Heathrow as a world-class airport and it's about our reputation -- and we need to make sure we get it sorted."

BAA, which owns and operates Heathrow, said the queues were "unacceptable" and that it was urgently taking up the issue with the Home Office interior ministry.

"There isn't a trade-off between strong border security and a good passenger experience -- the Home Office should be delivering both," a spokeswoman said.

Heathrow is the official host airport for the 2012 Olympics, with around 80 percent of all visitors to the Games expected to pass through its five terminals.

Earlier this month a seperate parliamentary committee warned that Heathrow may struggle to cope with extra passengers during the event.

It suggested the border agency had insufficient funds to ensure all passport lanes would be open.

Brian Moore, head of the Home Office's Border Force body, said they were "fully prepared" for busy periods during the Games and had "well-rehearsed plans" in place.

Asked how he would feel if come the Olympics, there were four-hour queues to enter Britain, he said: "If that is necessary in light of the threats and risks that we face at that time, then so be it. We will not compromise on safety."

He told BBC television that EEA passengers were getting through within 25 minutes or less, 95 percent of the time.

"Queues are caused by a number of factors, including incorrect flight manifests or early or late planes which result in bunching," he said.

"The important factor is to have staff that are flexibly deployed in the right numbers at the right times and this is what we always try to do."

Alastair Campbell, ex-prime minister Tony Blair's former communications chief, was among those caught up in Thursday's queues.

"If this is what Heathrow T5 border queue is like on an average Thursday, Olympic athletes should think about coming soon," he said.

Delayed passenger Leo Lourdes told BBC television: "The queue just keeps stretching on and all you see is despondent faces.

"It was quite embarrassing, especially with the Olympics coming up. I know in the UK we have a reputation for queueing but Terminal 5 were going for gold with this one. It's literally the longest queue I've ever seen!"