Thousands of airline passengers were facing long queues on Saturday night at Heathrow Airport due to new security measures. Extra searches were introduced last month for carry-on bags, leading to waiting times of an average 45 minutes when half-term holiday started. These new measures are to stay in place indefinitely, and many now fear that the long wait times experienced earlier in the year will happen again.
At Terminal 3, the line of passengers stretched across the departures floor from the check point for boarding passes. Issues were reportedly being experienced at Terminal 5 as well, while it’s not believed that the airport’s other terminals were affected.
Some travellers say that the changes have added between 40 and 50 minutes to the time it takes to go through security. At the same time, traffic on the M25 was slowed by wet weather, which meant that some passengers were arriving at the airport later than they expected for their departures already. However, those who stood the chance of missing their flights due to the delays were pulled out of the queues, along with families travelling with youngsters, and fast-tracked through the checks.
Heathrow Airport has a target to process 95% of passengers through security in just five minutes and 99% of travellers through checks in just ten minutes. If the airport misses these targets, it could be fined. The airport wouldn’t comment as to why the new security measures were being implemented but noted that they hadn’t caused delays until now. A spokesman says they don’t comment about security details for obvious reasons, but it’s not unusual for procedures at security checks to be changed.
One passenger told journalists that they saw many people rushing to their gates because they were late for their flights. There was a lot of chaos and confusion. He had to wait with hundreds other people while security officers were being careful as they conducted pat-downs. He added that it seemed as though they were taking more people aside than usual after they had putting them through the scanners. It’s hoped that the waits will become shorter as the staff become more accustomed to the new measures.
This follows the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) revealing last month that Heathrow Airport has the nation’s worst punctuality. Between April and June, the airport went through the biggest decline in on-time performance because of border control problems and bad weather. More than 25% of flights were delayed, dropping punctuality 6% to 73% for scheduled services among the nation’s ten major airports. It also reported that 27% of flights arrived or departed at Heathrow Airport late over the period, and delays increased two minutes to an average 14 minutes.
This coincided with a meltdown in the airport’s immigration services, which saw some passengers waiting more than two hours to get through border controls. The director of regulatory policy for the CAA, Iain Osborne, said that the decline in scheduled service delays is a warning sign. The industry can do more to reduce delays and ensure more passengers are arriving at their destinations on time.
Heathrow Airport operator BAA said that the decline in punctuality was mainly due to heavy rain and unprecedented weather. It explained that the hub is more vulnerable to poor weather like this because it operates at 99.2% capacity and doesn’t have room for slack in the system.