UK Border patrol tries to cover up three hour delays at Heathrow

One of the things that used to always irritate me coming into the US was the ridiculous wait to clear immigration before I received a green card. My wife (a US citizen) almost always clears UK customs before our baggage is on the luggage belt.

Seems like things have changed, as the Guardian reports angry travelers waiting hours to pass immigration in the UK:

Passengers flying into the airport at the weekend reported having to wait for up to three hours before clearing passport control. But after leaflets apologising for the problem were handed out by BAA, which owns Heathrow, the UKBA warned that they were “inappropriate” and that ministers would take “a very dim view”.

The airport operator was also told to prevent passengers taking pictures in the arrivals hall, according to the Daily Telegraph, which obtained correspondence from Marc Owen, director of UKBA operations at Heathrow. Pictures of lengthy queues have been posted on Twitter by frustrated travelers.

Owen said: “The leaflet … is both inflammatory and likely to increase tensions in arrivals halls especially in the current atmosphere. It is inappropriate in that it is not for you to display how to complain on our behalf. Please refrain from handing out [the leaflets] or I will escalate [the matter] with ministers who are likely to take a very dim view. I know there are copies in the hall and your troops are ready with them.”

Owen also requested that BAA stop passengers from taking pictures of the queues and posting them to Twitter. How typical, faced with a problem the response is to try to hide it. What does Owen want BAA to do, post notices telling passengers not to take pictures of the long queues and upload them to Twitter or Facebook?

The minister that Owen believes will take a ‘dim view’ is Damien Green, in charge of immigration. In 2008 Green was arrested on suspicion of “conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office” after a civil servant in the Home Office leaked some rather trivial government secrets to him. Green was arrested and his office and home searched by counter-terrorism officers. The resulting scandal was far more damaging to the government than any of the official secrets that leaked.

There are many reasons that people go into politics. Covering up for incompetent civil servants after a crisis has become a scandal is not one of them. I suspect that in a very short time we will be hearing that the queues at Heathrow are no longer a problem and Mr Owen is seeking employment elsewhere. Now if only something similar could happen in the US to shame the TSA.

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