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Heathrow owner hits immigration waiting time

By Cassandra Vinograd
Associated Press / May 3, 2012
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LONDON—The owner of Heathrow Airport said Thursday that border control officers are failing to meet their waiting time targets for non-EU passengers, but are hitting the mark for carriers of EU passports.

The figures come after Britain's immigration minister Damian Green admitted there is a problem with long lines at immigration, after controversy over passenger complaints about hours-long lines prompted lawmakers to express concern about the situation.

The airports have blamed the U.K. Border Agency, saying staffing levels at immigration weren't meeting demand.

BAA Ltd. said that immigration officers had done worst at Terminal 5, the center of British Airways operations and the busiest terminal at the airport. British Airways has been vocal in criticizing the long waiting times some arriving passengers have endured.

BAA's says 76 percent of non-EU passengers were cleared through Terminal 5 within 45 minutes, well short of the target of 95 percent.

However, BAA says 98 percent of EU passengers were getting through immigration at Terminal 5 within 25 minutes, and other terminals scored even higher.

Figures also showed that on April 30 there were passport-check lines of up to three hours at Heathrow's Terminal 4.

The U.K. Border Agency said while the data shows that queuing time targets for U.K. and EU citizens were not breached during April, it recognized that "at times" lines have been too long.

It said that is why it has announced an extra 80 staff for peak times at Heathrow and engaged extra staff to help deal with the influx of visitors during Britain's upcoming Olympics.

Meanwhile, a union representing immigration staff will stage a one-day strike next Thursday over its pension dispute with the government, threatening further disruption at Britain's airports.

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Cassandra Vinograd can be reached at http://twitter.com/CassVinograd

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