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Virgin Atlantic calls for action to reduce immigration queues at London Heathrow

By: Virgin Atlantic

August 13, 2018

Today we have called on Border Force to take action as international visitors to the UK are being greeted by wait times of up to two hours 38 minutes to clear immigration.

Recent high profile events such as the Royal Wedding and the favourable exchange rate have contributed to increased international visits in 2018, and coupled with an under-resourced Border Force has led to excessively long queue times at immigration.

Here at Virgin Atlantic, we’ve seen US passenger numbers increase by 20%, and we’re calling for urgent action to reduce the waiting times and extend the warm welcome visitors deserve. We have 23 international arrivals per day into London Heathrow and we’ve set up a “greet and treat” service for customers – providing water and snacks – to try and improve the experience.

The UK Border Force has a Service Level Agreement (SLA) to process at least 95% of non-EEA passengers, such as those from the US or China, through immigration within 45 minutes. In July there was only one day when this target was met, and the longest queue time occurred on 6th July when non EEA visitors spent up to two hours 38 minutes waiting in immigration queues.

Our CEO Craig Kreeger said: “This summer significant queues at Border Control mean that thousands of visitors have faced two-hour queues to get their passports checked, leaving them frustrated before they’ve even started their trip. At Virgin Atlantic, we’re doing our bit to try and help our international customers –providing extra staff, as well as drinks and snacks for the queue – but only the Border Force can resolve these unacceptable queue times and they must take action.

“We all agree that security and safety at our airports is vital and remains our top priority, but other countries are managing their borders more effectively. At a time when the UK needs to show the world it is open for business, the Government and Border Force need to provide a great first impression, for every visitor, every time.”

How do the wait times contrast to other tourist queues? The world’s longest tourist queues, according to TripAdvisor data from 2017:

1) The London Eye – London, UK – 2.5-hour queue

2) Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums – Vatican City, Italy – 2-hour queue

3) Colosseum – Rome, Italy – 2-hour queue

4) The Catacombs – Paris, France – 2-hour queue (up to 3-4 hours during summer)

5) Eiffel Tower – Paris, France – 2-hour queue

6) St. Peter’s Basilica – Vatican City, Italy – 1.5-hour queue

7) Tower of London – London, UK – 1.5-hour queue

8) Van Gogh Museum – Amsterdam, The Netherlands – 1.5-hour queue

9) Empire State Building – New York City, USA – 1.5-hour queue

10) Notre Dame Cathedral – Paris, France – 1 hour (up to 2 hours for the towers)

According to Visit Britain – the UK’s tourist authority – 76% of tourists arrive in the UK by air, and they account for 87% of inbound tourist spending.