UK To Open E-Gates To Citizens Of US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, And Japan

Recently I wrote about how immigration wait times at London Heathrow airport had reached 2.5 hours.

I also wrote about how, in these situations, paying for the Registered Traveller program has been money well spent for me. This allows me to skip the ‘normal’ immigration lines and use the electronic gates for European Economic Area nationals when arriving in the UK, where I have never waited more than a few minutes each time to use them.

The UK Government has just delivered their annual budget in Parliament. They have made a surprising but welcome announcement that from mid-2019, passport holders from the following countries will be able to use automated e-gates when arriving in the United Kingdom (without having to register for, or pay for, the Registered Traveller program):

  • United States
  • Canada
  • New Zealand
  • Australia
  • Japan

Chancellor of the Exchequer (how’s that for a title?) Philip Hammond said the decision was made by the UK Government to:

Send a message loud and clear to the rest of the world that Britain is open for business.

This is in the wake of the economic uncertainty that Brexit has brought with it, as the UK prepares to leave the European Union from late March next year.

While this is wonderful news (I’ll happily stop paying for Registered Traveller if it becomes free), I hope in the period from now until the scheme commences that additional e-gates will be built where necessary to handle the greatly increased number of people using the e-gates.

This is because if the lengthy queues simply shift from the ‘normal’ line to the e-gates line and the wait periods are the same, it will negate much of the benefit of the e-gate concept.

I can especially see additional e-gates being necessary in Heathrow Terminal 3 during the morning periods, as there are many flights from the US arriving on Delta, Virgin Atlantic and American Airlines within a short space of time (noting some of these flights listed below are codeshares  i.e. where’s there are flights from the same cities at the exact same time).

Terminal 5 also has plenty of morning arrivals from the US and Canada especially.

I would note that most times I pass through the e-gates at any London airport, only about 50-70% of the e-gates are open anyway, so if they can operate 100% of them during peak period they may be able to get away with not installing any more at certain airports/terminals, though I’ll be interested to see how it works at Heathrow Terminal 3.

Bottom line

I’m not looking forward to the UK leaving the European Union next year (I personally think it will be remembered as the biggest mistake Britain made during my lifetime), but I certainly welcome no longer having to pay for Registered Traveller next year.

I just hope they properly assess the number of additional eligible passport holders who will be using the e-gates so the wait times don’t change. They have all the data from those landing cards they supposedly do something with, and the time to build additional e-gates where necessary.

Will you be able to use e-gates from mid next year?

Comments

  1. “I’m not looking forward to the UK leaving the European Union next year (I personally think it will be remembered as the biggest mistake Britain made during my lifetime)”

    But given all the ongoing chaos it’s still unclear if Brexit will actually happen. The ridiculous thing is they won’t open these e-gates until 2019, meaning it’s a political thing

  2. Most of those flights are the same flight, just listed separately by each airline that codeshares on it.

  3. While I understand your point regarding the number of inbound aircraft in the morning from US in T3, the majority of flights on the image you posted are codeshares of one another.

  4. Your list make it look like there are 25 flights landing between 6:30 and 7:10 but many are code share listings. In reality there are 8 flights landing, not 25.

  5. @ HLC, MAS – I know they are codeshares – I couldn’t find a way to show the arrivals at T3 without the codeshares appearing but I’ll update the post to clarify the codeshares.

    Cheers.

  6. I only hope they improve the instructions. I want to slap every person I see placing the passport on the scanner in a tent shape. press it flat you idiots.

  7. Is it settled whether EU citizens will still be able to use E-gates post-Brexit? If not, it makes sense to shift Britain’s largest non-EU trading partners to the gates so agents can handle EU arrivals.

  8. I am British so I use the e-Gates. Frequently many of the lanes are not open. I cannot understand why because they are electronic and not manned. If you have an issue (like the machine won’t read properly) you are directed to a manned station for an officer to deal with you face to face. There is only one manned station. I can foresee lots of Americans, etc., having problems due to unfamiliarity and clogging the lanes. I hope it works.

  9. Chancellor *of* the Exchequer, James.

    As to e-gate numbers, they need to be improved massively, it’s already so bad that I find myself using the manned EEA passport queue even when travelling alone (you have to use it if you’re travelling as a family with under-14s). Last week at Gatwick, coming in from China, it was a no brainer: hundreds of people queueing at the e-gates, only 3 people at the manual EEA passport control.

  10. Chancellor of the Exchequer is one of the oldest roles in the governance of Britain – much, much older even that that of Prime Minister.

    Though that is only the common use title – the formal title is Chancellor and Under-Treasurer of Her Majesty’s Exchequer.

    Much better than being a mere ‘Finance Minister’!

  11. This is genuinely good news (notwithstanding tax/charge increases). I get that many people want to go to the U.K., legally or otherwise. But that should not be a license for the inexplicable rudeness from U.K. Border officials at passport control. It’s especially jarring to Commonwealth citizens, I can tell you. Never thought I’d see the day when I preferred saying “hello” to a machine rather than a human. Finally, being an Australian passport holder means something again to the U.K. Glad you’ve (finally) returned the favour. Thank you!

  12. No need for new gates, just add one man and open all the gates.

    So many times I have arrived to find only 1/3 of the gates operating in T3

  13. Wait and see what it will be for Aussies, kiwis and Canadians to go the U.K after the brexit, Rumor has it they will make it easier for those commonwealth citizens to travel/live/work in the U.K.

  14. As I understand it, the e-gates are not fully automatic but there is/are Border Force personnel behind the scenes and you need one person per a certain number of machines. That’s why some/many are not in operation but they are also opened or closed in batches.

    If they take a certain number of staff away from the non-EU line to man the e-gates, then that should increase capacity significantly – the gates are much faster than the desks – however a pro-tip is always get in a queue, even if it’s longer, which feeds two gates rather than one. It’s amazing how some people are too stupid to be able to place their passport on a reader.

    As to the question of whether non-UK EU citizens will continue to be able to use them, I suspect that will depend on how the EU chooses to treat UK subjects, a broader question on which the EU has remained very silent indeed.

  15. Jamieo – They are manned, you just can’t see them as they’re watching you on a screen.

    Kyall – There are rumours for everything. It doesn’t make much sense to just replace European visitors/workers with another group (a key reason for leaving the EU is reducing the flow of foreigners into the UK), so I wouldn’t pay too much attention to it becoming significantly easier.

  16. Last week I used them for entry and exit from Italy (with my USA passport). My first impression was that most people were clueless about how to place their passport in the reader. After the first gate opens into a cage, the passenger is photographed followed by a delay (which is a bit long actually) before the second gate opens. Upon exit the passenger meets an official who manually stamps the passport. There were long entry lines but much shorter lines for exiting the country with the same procedures. I’m happy to see them but I’m not sure they currently save time given the scarcity of machines and hoards of international passengers all arriving at once.

  17. THE NEW GATES ARE BETTER, AND WILL WHEN WORKIN SHORTEN LINES, ALSO THERE IS USUALLY SOMEONE WORKING TO HELP, I THINK YOU ARE ALLOWED TWO TRYS THEN, YOU HAVE TO GO BACK IN LINE IF THEY DON,T WORK, PLUS OVER HALF THE COUNTRY IS VERYY HPPY TO LEAVE, NOT THAT WE DON,T LIKE THE EU, ITS THEIR POLITICS, THAT ASLLOW ALL AND EVER ONE TO COME IN THE COUNTRY UNDOCUMENTED, AS YOU WILL FIND OUT IF THE CARAVAN COMES TO USA,

  18. GERTIE – what a load of nonsense Even more so because of the all capital letters and lack of punctuation and poor spelling.

    Free Movement applies just as much to UK citizens – you know all the ones who went off to live in France and Spain and Poland and Italy etc etc

    And you are making the same mistake as many other leavers do and conflate legal and illegal immigration.

    @Callum – we still want tourists to come whether they come from the EU or the US or Australia or wherever. There is a big difference between people who want to come to the UK for a holiday and those that want to come and work – and we still need many of those people.

  19. @Anthony – the lines form at the gates. The passport officer has no line and the stamp just takes a second to exit. The problem is too few gates and passenger confusion about how to place their passport and a bit of a delay with the actual processing of the passport information. I’m sure with time, they will get more gates and people will adjust to the new machines. I recall when the USA introduced kiosks at entry with Homeland Security – a real mess at first but now, they work well.

  20. I typically have Fast Track and would see no reason to use anything else. I usually get through immigration and security in less than 15 minutes at Heathrow. As a USA resident I typically am doing this at terminal 5 after arriving terminal 3 and doing the shuttle.

  21. Gertie seems like one of our typical Brexit voters. Clueless and barely literate. James isn’t wrong in his view that it’s the biggest mistake Britain has made in his/our lifetime(s). Madness.

  22. Well they can always do some sort of informative screening on board prior to arrival. Guide to arriving at LHR using e-gates. Will take only 10 minutes?

  23. @John: EU citizens will continue to use the UK/EU channel after March 29, 2019 until the end of the so called transition period in Dec. 31, 2020, with the possibility of another two years extension until end of 2022, in case of the unlikely “no deal Brexit” (Between London and Brussels; London will blink first). EU citizens will continue to use the UK/EU channels until a new system is put in place…and that will take very very long time……at this rate you can expect very long queues at both none UK/EU channels and e-gate channels. buckle up…… until then, immigration and customs at entry points are going to be a nightmare!

  24. My partner travels on a UK passport, and me on an Australian Passport. Years ago, we asked an attendant what should we do, given that UK immigration like you to go through passport control with the person you are travelling with.

    We were told to use the ‘Special’ queue (I can’t remember what it is actually called). There is almost always no queue, so you get through quickly – even quicker than the express lane for premium passengers. Occasionally there is a large family group – ahead of you – but even in these cases, we usually sail through much quicker than all the other queues.

  25. I was on the pilot scheme for registered traveller and it was free then so I’ll be happy not to pay again. My view is these should be free after maybe an initial registration fee. Hopefully opening it up will still be quick access through.

  26. As an American living in London, I completely agree with your article James. Keep up the great work!

  27. Perhaps when we leave and stop paying into the EU coffers we will be able to pay for the electricity to open the now closed electronic gates and get more immigration staff.

  28. Unlike Gobal Entry in the US, the E-Gates are not fully automated; they are actually manned, behind the scenes by a customs officer, who makes the decision on opening the electronic gates. (I kid you not!)

    This explains why often upon arrival at LHR many of the e-gates are not operational. This is especially a problem when arriving at non-peak hours as there are only so many e-gates one officer can handle at one time.

  29. There is one Border Force officer for every five electronic gates checking your passport photo against the picture taken by the machine. I noticed this a few days ago when arriving from Hong Kong in Terminal 3 at Heathrow. There were queues, and five of the gates were not operating. Once I was in the short line for one of gates, the remaining five opened. Typical! As you pass behind the manned booths after being processed you will notice an officer looking at a screen of five faces comparing the passport picture and the photo taken at the gate. So when gates are closed it could either be that they are understaffed, or could be a changeover.
    There is one downside for travel hobbyists though. I just arrived in New Zealand and used the electronic gates here. I’m disappointed as I don’t get a passport stamp!

  30. For those who use E-Gates routinely, what do you see most families do with U18’s? Do the children enter the E-Gate with the parent or separately? Our youngest child has special needs and will require some assistance with the passport and staying focused on the screen. I could not find anything on the Heathrow website about this. Many thanks for your thoughts.

  31. @skedguy

    that’s because they can use the gates already and will be able to until at least the end of the transition period and more than likely many, many years after that.

    @jeff

    children under 18 (possibly under 16s am not sure of the cut off) are NOT able to use the egates and have to use the non egate queue no matter their citizenship.

  32. @ChrisC: Thank you. I was hoping to have the option of using the E-Gates, based on this guidance from the Heathrow website:

    “You need to be over 12 and have an e-passport (look for the ‘chip’ logo on the front) issued by a country in the European Economic Area* or Switzerland.”

    Source: https://www.heathrow.com/arrivals/immigration-and-passports

    I now see, however, how this advice contradicts the UK Gov website:

    “You can use ePassport gates if all of the following are true:

    you’ve got the biometric symbol on the cover of your passport
    you’re 18 or over
    you’re a UK or EU citizen”

    Source: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/use-epassport-gates-for-fast-entry-into-the-uk

    From what I gather, Border Force increased the age in order to reduce the risk of human trafficking by ensuring that minors have an opportunity to be questioned.

    If, as a practical matter, Heathrow steers U16’s or U18’s to the manned desk, no worries. At least we’ll collect a stamp.

  33. Heathrow has become the *worst* airport in Europe at which to land, or even transfer. 2.5 hours to get into the country is ridiculous – I’ll just head on to the continent and so much for spending money in the UK.

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