New UK Border Checks Could Increase Flight Delays and Prices

londonNatalie Paris, The Daily Telegraph, November 26, 2013

Under the new Immigration Bill, the Government is considering handing the power to seize passports - so called exit checks - to airline, port and international rail staff.

Critics from 11 companies suggest that the move would effectively mean privatising immigration checks and could make boarding times in airports 40 per cent longer.

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British Airways has said it has reservations about its staff being made to carry out the checks. It also argued that the new law would not be practical now that many passengers check-in online.

TUI, the owner of Thomson, also “fundamentally disagreed” with the proposals, thought to be designed to supplement the current E-borders system, which has been beset by problems .

The committee considering the Bill heard evidence from TUI earlier this month that stated: “the boarding gate is the last place any carrier wants to refuse carriage for whatever reason…as such refusal inevitably leads to a delay whilst their baggage is found and offloaded.”

The operator added that the extra checks would “inevitably lead to increased cost of flights and thus an increase in the cost of holidays for the consumer.”

A spokesman for British Airways said it has asked for a clause in the Bill to be removed or redrafted and for airlines' obligations to be limited to one of provision of electronic passenger data.

“While we support the Government's priority for a secure border, we believe that immigration checks are a core function of the Home Office and the proposed amendments could have significant implications for our staff and the experience of our customers,” he told Telegraph Travel.

“Many of our customer service processes have been designed to allow travellers to attend to their own needs via self-service options such as checking-in online and printing their own boarding passes.

“The potential for our customer service staff to be required to take on aspects of the immigration function would not fit seamlessly with these established processes and would add an additional burden on the airline as well as disrupting passenger flow and the airport operation.”

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BA’s evidence to the committee suggested that its customer service staff are not adequately qualified to take on the responsibility of immigration officers. It said the proposals could result in boarding times increasing by at least 40 per cent for a Boeing 747.

Mark Harper, Immigration Minister, defended the proposals however and said: “We have already committed to introducing exit checks by 2015. The Immigration Bill will introduce powers to enable carrier and port operator staff to play a role in carrying out these checks.

“This will help improve our already robust security at the border, while causing as little disruption to passengers as possible. Our aim is to make it much harder for offenders to flee British justice and to better identify those who are in the UK illegally.”

He told the committee that the new checks were more likely to be introduced at ports and railway stations than at airports, as airports already collect significant amounts of advance passenger information.

Our consumer travel expert, Nick Trend, said: "After proposals published two weeks ago, which would enable British passengers to pay extra for 'fast track' immigration checks, this seems to be another attempt to reduce the cost to the Government of running border services.

“It is not clear how onerous the new plan would be, but if industry objections prove founded, it could end up as increasing the cost of international travel and add to delays in the departure lounge."