Skip the Heathrow nightmare? Only if you're rich

Passengers deemed "high value" will be given priority through border control at Heathrow and other UK airports under a new plan.
Passengers deemed "high value" will be given priority through border control at Heathrow and other UK airports under a new plan. Photo: AFP

The UK Border Agency (UKBA) has disclosed that it is working on plans for fast-track passport lanes for rich travellers at Heathrow and other British airports so they can avoid any repeat of the two-hour queues seen this year.

Brian Moore, the departing head of the UK Border Force, told MPs that ''high value'' people who were considered valuable passengers by the airlines or valuable to the British economy would be given priority treatment at immigration control under the plans.

It would be an extension of a priority queueing system trialled this year at Heathrow, under which passengers from Australia, Canada, the US, New Zealand and other, mainly ''old Commonwealth'' countries who do not need a visa to enter Britain would be fast-tracked.

Moore told the Commons home affairs select committee: ''It is an idea that officials are discussing with port operators. It will then go back to ministers for them to consider whether and how it is going to be progressed. It is an idea that is being pursued.''

Keith Vaz, the committee chair, pressed Moore as to whether it meant the super-rich would have a fast track into Britain. Moore said it would cover people who were ''valuable to the economy and were valued by the airlines''. He said the move was intended to demonstrate that Britain was ''open for business''.

The plan is likely to be seen as highly divisive, especially if there is any repeat of the two-hour queues at passport control earlier this year and in the runup to the Olympics.

Even at normal times, passengers from outside the European Union are expected to queue for up to 45 minutes to get through passport control at Heathrow. The airport has a target to keep passport queues below 25 minutes for passengers with EU passports.

Moore said similar fast-track schemes were already in operation in other countries around the world, with some airlines offering first-class ticketholders speedy passport checks.

- The Guardian

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