Sunday, October 4, 2009

Passengers can jump immigration queue at a price

Passengers can jump immigration queue at a price
Passengers are to be offered the chance to pay up to £50 to jump the immigration queue at airports by enrolling in a programme which will allow holidaymakers to avoid delays

The charge would entitle travellers to use a fast track system, which can be as much as 45 minutes.

The initiative, which will be introduced next year at Heathrow, is the latest in a number of add on charges which are pushing up the price of air travel.

Luton and Liverpool airports already allow passengers to jump the security queue if they pay extra the way out of the country.

British Airways announced last week that passengers must pay to choose their seats more than 24 hours ahead of travel.

The new system would allow those who pay the charge of up to £50 to use a fast gate.

The high tech gates, which will be quicker than the current system, are being installed to read the new biometric passports, which have chips in them containing details of distances between a person’s eyes, nose, mouth and ears.

However, at present only 19.7 million Britons have the new passports, which were introduced in March 2006. These people will be able to use the scheme free of charge as will EU nationals with biometric travel documents.

The fast track subscription programme would be offered to those without biometric passports - about 28 million in Britain. .

The scheme, which will also be made available to "trusted travellers" from outside the EU, often business executives, is designed to contribute towards the £7 million needed to pay for extra gates at Heathrow capable of scanning the new biometric passports.

Talks are already under way between BAA, Britain’s largest airport operator, and the UK Border Agency over a scheme, currently called “automated clearance system plus”, which would allow holders of old-style passports to use the gates as well.

It will entail enrolling in the scheme at Heathrow, where biometric information will be stored on the computer system and linked to the passport number.

If the biometric information matches that registered against the old style passport, the gates will open.

Another option would be to renew a passport early which costs anything between £77.50 for the document to be issued by post to £129.50 for a same day service.

“It would be an economic decision for the passenger to make,” said a spokesman

The scheme will also be made available to other “trusted travellers” from outside the European Union, who would have to be cleared by the UK Border Agency beforehand.

Delays at airports have been a sensitive issue in recent years, both getting in and out of the country.

In 2007 Stansted was plunged into chaos when new passport scanners were introduced, which more than doubled the time needed to clear each passenger.

British holidaymakers arriving at the airport were warned that they could face delays of up to 45 minutes before they cleared immigration.

However a BAA spokesman was optimistic that the latest initiative would benefit all passengers, partly because the smart gates would take pressure off manned immigration posts.

There are also hopes that the automated gates would work faster than the current system which relies on the new biometric scanners being operated by a member of the UK Border Agency.

The gates, which will start off in Terminal 4, will eventually replace the IRIS scheme, which is currently used by more than 90,000 British passport holders.

A spokesman for the Air Transport Users Council was relaxed about the latest initiative.

“Our only concern would be if they took out other channels to make room for the gates, then it could impact on other passengers who didn’t pay for the service,” he said.

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