Expats, their friends and families intending to use London’s main airport Heathrow during this summer’s Olympic Games are facing extra delays.
The airport to the west of London may not be able to cope with the arrival of thousands of extra passengers. Planes could be left on runways and there could be long queues at immigration, according to the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
There seems to be no contingency being made for the extra time needed to unload passengers this summer, the MPs said.
The concerns were expressed in a letter, published on the Culture Committee’s website, from the committee’s chairman, John Whittingdale, to Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
It comes after two committee members, Therese Coffey and Gerry Sutcliffe, attended a briefing by Heathrow operator BAA concerning the company’s preparations for London 2012.
They reported back that BAA considers the big challenge will be the departure of spectators at the end of the Olympics. But they ‘did not leave the briefing confident that Heathrow was ready to cope with the arrival of a huge number of competitors, Olympic family and visiting tourists in timely fashion’.
‘We understand that significant preparations have been made to accommodate unusual sporting equipment, special lanes for the Olympic family, welcoming arrangements for competitors and additional Olympic ambassadors,’ the letter says.
‘However, far less thought seems to have been given to the issue of how to deal with long queues at immigration. The UKBA (UK Border Agency) representative suggested that there was insufficient funding to ensure all passport stations would be open,’ it continues.
‘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,’ it adds.
BAA said it believes that immigration waiting times during peak periods at Heathrow are frequently unacceptable.
‘We have called on Border Force to address the problem as a matter of urgency. There isn’t a trade off between strong border security and a good passenger experience, Border Force should be delivering both,’ a spokesman said.
A Border Force spokesperson said that the organisations is well prepared for the Olympics and will have additional staff available for busy periods.
‘But we will not compromise on border security and are working with BAA to ensure that we are ready to deal with extra passengers,’ the spokesman added.