Immigration At UK Airports May Soon Be Quicker… If You’re Willing To Pay

Filed Under: Travel

Different countries seem to have different policies as far as expedited immigration goes. Some countries, like Thailand and the UK, have fast track immigration lines available to premium passengers. Other countries don’t seem to have any sort of formalized fast track immigration lines, so it doesn’t matter what class of service you’re in, you’ll be waiting at immigration. China and the US are among those countries, for example.

While the UK has fast track immigration facilities, it looks like this may soon be expanded to all passengers… if they’re willing to pay. Per the Mirror, UK airports will soon begin allowing passengers to pay a fee in order to cut long immigration lines. Apparently the fee will be at least £5, though the details haven’t yet been fully revealed. Here’s what we know so far:

A spokesman for the PCS union told the Sunday People: “This is a ridiculous idea that exposes just how understaffed our borders are. What happens if everyone opts to pay £5? We’re back to square one.”

He added: “Instead of gimmicks like this the Government needs to properly invest in staff to work at ports and airports because the shortages are there for all to see.”

It emerged last month that Edinburgh Airport could start charging travellers £5 to jump queues.

Now the Sunday People can reveal plans are afoot to roll the policy out nationwide, though rates at other airports are unclear.

It’s an interesting concept. If the money were actually put towards increasing overall staffing then it would be a win-win. However, in practice I suspect this would simply be a move to increase revenue without actually investing more in immigration, meaning those not paying would be subjected to even longer lines.

Furthermore, this seems like it would lead to a lot of disappointment. Passengers would be angry if they paid the fee only to find that there was no wait at “regular” immigration, while other times passengers might be angry that there’s still a queue in the fast track line when they paid extra for it. Heck, at UK airports I’ve often found the fast track line for first & business class passengers to be longer than the regular line.

None of this even addresses the fact that the UK has the highest air passenger duties in the world by far, so passengers traveling to/from the UK are already paying out the wazoo for the privilege. I realize that money doesn’t go directly to their border control, but still…

Gatwick Airport already lets passengers pay to get access to a premium immigration queue. This is available for £12.50, and they’ll sell it to at most 50 passengers per hour, which ensures that these immigration queues are actually expedited. I don’t have any issues with this being rolled out on a limited scale, but anything beyond what Gatwick offers seems like it would lead to disappointment.

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Would you like to see more airports roll out fast track immigration for a fee, or do you think it would only make things worse?

  1. The Fast Track lines at Heathrow are sometimes longer than the regular line, but it also seems to vary by terminal how they handle that situation. At T4, for example, they seem to actively manage the fast track line, and make sure that enough agents are dedicated to fast track that it is actually faster than the regular line regardless of how many people are in the line (though the regular line is sometimes painfully slow as a result). But at T3 they don’t seem to adjust the number of agents serving each line, and the fast track line can definitely sometimes be slower than the regular line.

  2. I would use the UK Registered Traveller service (which would help ease congestion at airports) if they made it last longer and reduced the price (currently GBP 70 for one year). Right now they seem to be offering it as something that entirely benefits the traveller but it also helps reduce congestion and they should be pushing people to use it.

  3. I waited more than an hour in the fasttrak lane at LHR T5 this summer. There were less than 100 people in the line, but there was only a single officer for most of the time we were there. Nonetheless, it was still faster than the regular line. Bad experience to enter a country and I was only there on a very long layover. Next time I will take my connecting flight business elsewhere.

    Where do people see the long lines at US Customs? I always hear horror stories but never actually see it myself in person. I usually enter JFK T1, 4 or 8 or LAX TBIT.

  4. As Karim has said, I have paid for the UK Registered Traveller scheme. Its £70 per year and allows me to use the EU E-Gate passport lanes with my Australian passport when arriving at any UK airport (I live in London), rather than queuing with the non-EU masses. I have never waited more than 60 seconds for an E-gate at any London airport. Yes you pay for the convenience, but its saved me hours. I would happily pay for regular entry to my home port with a foreign passport.

  5. My issue Stateside has usually not been immigration (though, looking at you Chicago, there are exceptions). My issue has typically been getting back airside to get to a connecting flight due to security.

    Immigration at LHR has been crazy for a while – it seems to be much quicker in Manchester. The times I have had to wait for long periods of time have been when there hasnt seemed to be enough Immigration staff working the queues (which is almost all the time these days) – and is recurring a problem I see at Chicago. Fast Track lines these days dont seem to be much quicker than normal lines, unless you are flying at really odd times of the day.

    Paying for Fast Trak? I dont know about that – if enough people pay, you have only moved the problem, not solved it.

  6. Yeah, if the fee is truly only gonna be £5, than fast track lines are gonna be longer than the regular ones very soon. I waited 90 minutes at Heathrow T3 after a redeye from Boston last June. As for US Immigration, the best kept secret is to connect in Detriot as the queues are all short enough to be fast track lanes.

  7. Never had a big problem with immigration in the U.S. before Global Entry but jeez Canada… YUL and YYZ were absolutely insane this summer (1.5 hour wait in Montreal on a Friday afternoon). Def spurred me to apply for NEXUS.

  8. I’m British – I’ve had some horrors in LHR T3 but since they introduced e-passport gates (for EU citizens) I’ve not spent more than 10 mins in an immigration line. The worst airports by far I’ve ever had to use were KIX (I’ve had 2hr waits at least 3 times) and DEN (worst US immigration I’ve had)! Avoid if you can!

  9. I use to work at the busiest intl airport in the US (JFK) and the situation was absolutely embarrassing. The nation’s gateway airport consistently had a 1-2 hour wait, stretching all the way up to 3-5 hours on busy summer days. While, JFK was fully staffed sometimes, most of the time there is not enough staff at the airports and/or the officers work excessive overtime. I’m not sure what the answer is to be honest, because I have seen a variety of models, but if you really value your time, invest in GLOBAL ENTRY! However, something needs to be done to augment staffing at the airports. The staffing is dangerously low in some airports…

  10. Absolutely needed!!! Finally the rich no longer need to mingle with the commoners at airports. They should introduce these paid fasttrack lines at polling booths and doctors offices next.

  11. Aren’t citizens supposed to be equal before the law?
    Paying for FastTrack at security I can understand as the airport is usually a private company that can choose to differentiate among its customers, but immigration is an exclusive prerogative of the State, not paying the fee would mean that one de facto recognizes that he/she is a second-class citizen.
    As for e-gates, they are easy to use, free and way more efficient at CDG than LHR where the system constantly rejects me because of the beard I sport on my passport picture that I no longer have. CDG system uses fingerprints.

  12. How long before a lawsuit is filed claiming that such a fee discriminates against minorities who, typically, are less able to afford these fees to jump line?

    It also seems like almost an incentive to make immigration suck so that people will pay to skip the line

    What next? Bidding to get a faster line?

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