Travel in 2018 is off to a rocky start with multiple sources claiming the border force at Heathrow is missing targets, queues are hours long and travellers are experiencing extreme delays. This is all a result of Heathrow’s busiest year yet, and both the Daily Mail and TravelWeekly published articles detailing the lengthy delays Heathrow experienced in the final days of 2017. The articles state that on December 29th, 2017, border targets were not achieved on 101 occasions, with 17 of these queue delays resulting in European Economic Area (EEA) passengers waiting in excess of 85 minutes, while double that number waited longer. It is reported that the longest wait times were in Terminal 4 where some travellers waited for over 150 minutes.
The problem of processing passengers in an efficient manner could be a result of Heathrow accommodating a record number of travellers in 2017. In statement on their website, Heathrow Airport has shared that during the year they facilitated 78 million passengers through the four active terminals. That’s the equivalent of the combined total populations of Canada, Poland and New Zealand all having used the airport, in one year. Thankfully Britain’s tourist board managed to bring in a more diverse bunch than just those three countries, but our point is, that’s a massive number of visitors. And the increased volume of travellers is the likely catalyst for the inefficiency of border force employees.
The increased probability of encountering delays is an issue we hoped to avoid but with this becoming a caveat to travelling through Heathrow, we have created a list of 4 simple tips to help speed up your process at the border.
- Don’t travel during peak times
The delays occurred during December, a notoriously busy time of year. If you’ve seen any Christmas movie ever you’ll know the cliché of ‘there’s only one flight out of here for the next 7 days, and it’s full’. This is an exaggeration, but not entirely false. The winter months tend to be the busiest of the year because families need to be reunited for Christmas and New Year, or the annual exodus of Britons searching for warmer climates is in full swing. Either way, around this time airports are busier than Zac Efron since 2016- seriously Zac, 8 movies in 2 years… take a break! In most cases, it is unavoidable and this tip has no credence, but if it is possible to hold out on your holiday, or you really don’t want to see Grandma on Christmas, maybe fly another time.
- Look for other airports
A handy tip for all destinations, finding another airport can result in cheaper flights and a shorter commute. Many of us research our destination before we travel: where are the cathedrals, the monuments, the wineries and breweries (it’s been a stressful few months, don’t judge us), but it is rare that we will give the airport we arrive at much thought. A fatal- or rather, inconvenient- mistake. Researching the airport can be a key factor in avoiding busy arrival halls and expensive transfer fares. For example, Gatwick is less busy and sometimes cheaper to fly into. Stansted is home to RyanAir, which is renowned for budget flights, which means you could find a bargain (however, the commute to London is a couple of hours). London City, Manchester, Birmingham and Essex all fly internationally so compare prices before you fly and you may avoid the huge queues Heathrow is quickly becoming famous for. As your shrewd grandparents might say, “shop around, you can always find a better deal”.
- Have documentation ready
A simple tip that can save so much hassle and panic. Keep your passport in an accessible part of your bag or a pocket and, if required, have your landing card filled out correctly and close by. A mini meltdown at the realisation you cannot find your passport is panic we have all felt and when you’ve been waiting for up to an hour, it is easy to prepare for. It’s best not to hide your passport at the bottom of your bag and frantically search for it moments before you get called forward for inspection. Don’t leave it to dark magic, be like Harry Potter and his trusty wand, always have your passport on hand in case evil unexpectedly arrives- or in the more unlikely situation, a border control agent appears.
- Hire an airport chaperone
We may be biased but this is one of the easiest pieces of advice we have. The role of a chaperone is to guide you through the airport safely and make the journey as efficient and safe as possible. In short, we do the worrying, we handle the panics, and we fix the problems. Airport Angels accompanies students, minors, and groups of all sizes through multiple UK airports. Our team has dealt with various border control issues over the years and can often help resolve situations involving these delays.
Our goal is to accommodate every traveller’s specific needs and make their journey as comfortable as possible, even when delays are unavoidable. At best, we can help speed the process along. At worst, you have a companion to wait with you. Imagine you’re on the Lord of the Rings journey, but instead of personally dealing with fiery dragons, angry Orcs, and stubborn airport security, an Airport Angel fights all that scary stuff for you while you play Candy Crush on your phone.
Unfortunately, there is no magic formula for avoiding hold-ups at the border. We wish we could tell you the golden solution that would fix this but airports are unpredictable and the reason for delays are always different. However, these few tips should offer some guidance on how to combat the long lines at Heathrow on your next inbound trip.
We hope our list of tips helps you on your next journey, and if you do decide to book with us, we can’t wait to meet you! You can contact us today via our website www.airportangels.net, or on Twitter at @AirportAngelsUK.