Travel Advice: How to Avoid Airport Immigration Queues

The long queues at Heathrow Terminal 5 are a familiar sight for many travellers who have to use major UK airports at peak times. But, if you plan things carefully, there are ways to reduce your chances of getting caught in a long line. Here are five tactics.

1. Fly local

Smaller airports occasionally have problems when more than one plane arrives at once, but generally speaking you will get through immigration much faster at a minor regional airport than at a main hub.

2. Arrive in the middle of the day

If you have to fly through a big airport, try to book a flight which lands between about 10am and 4pm. There tend to be fewer flights landing then, and the planes are not so full. Weekends, and peak days for travel — such as the beginning of the school holidays — are also best avoided.

3. Check-in online

If you have already booked your flight and can’t avoid the busy times, make sure you check in early (ideally online) and choose an aisle seat near the front of the aircraft. Then you can at least get ahead of most of the other people on your plane when you disembark. If you are flying with no-frills airlines which don’t allocate a seat number, you may want to pay extra for priority boarding in order to get a suitable seat.

Biometric passports

4. If you have a biometric passport (look for the gold rectangle with a circle in it at the bottom of the front cover) it has a chip inside it storing information about your face — such as the distances between your eyes, nose, mouth and ears. These details are taken from the passport photograph. You can use this to go through automatic gates which are now installed at every major UK airport. But before you line up in one of the queues for these machines, make sure the wait looks shorter than for the ordinary immigration desks. Sometimes there can be a wait here too.

IRIS recognition

5. If you have registered for the Home Office IRIS recognition system, instead of queuing at the desks, you can enter a glass booth and get automatic clearance based on a scan of your iris that confirms your identity and nationality. Unfortunately, the scheme has already been dropped at Manchester and Birmingham, and is being withdrawn from Heathrow and Gatwick after the Olympics, so it is of no use to those who have not registered.