On our trip last week to Marrakech, we flew through London’s Heathrow airport. We’ve been through Heathrow numerous times to catch connecting flights. We’ve noticed over the past couple of years that the UK customs & immigration lines at Heathrow continue to get longer and longer each time we pass through. On our way through this time, the line was over two hours long. To make matters worse, there were only 6-7 border control officers working and at least 500 people in line. If this is what it’s like now, what will it be like when the Olympics are in London this summer?
There’s been a lot of press lately about the long lines at Heathrow, including a crackdown by the UKBA (UK Border Authority) on frustrated passengers taking photos of the long lines. Immigration lines are the longest for non-EU/non-UK passport holders. According to news reports and our own observations, the delays aren’t just happening at Heathrow Terminal 5, the main home of British Airways. They’re happening at other terminals as well.
We flew in to Heathrow from Newark on United into Heathrow Terminal 4. That’s where we saw over 500 people in line waiting to clear UK Customs. We arrived around 10AM on a Sunday morning. While there was a light rain, it didn’t appear that UK customs lines were due to late arriving aircraft or “bunched” arrivals. Luckily, we had upgraded to Business on the flight into LHR. United passes out coupons to it’s Business customers, so they can use the Fast Track immigration lanes at Heathrow. This allows you to bypass the regular UK customs line and go to an expedited lane. While others were waiting hours to clear customs, we waited less than 5 minutes. It was definitely one of those times we were glad we upgraded.
If you’re connecting through Heathrow during future travel, make sure you leave enough time for connecting flights if you’re traveling on a different airline in a different alliance. Since most terminals are disconnected at Heathrow, if you’re flying another airline onward, you’ll have to clear UK Customs for your transfer. Let’s hope that the UKBA get their act together, so all of us passing through can get where we need to go.