Easter gridlock warning to Theresa May over airport staff shortages
AIRLINES have warned Home Secretary Theresa May that Britain “risks gridlock” at airports over the Easter break due to staff shortages.
British Airways and Virgin Airlines are among 11 companies that have written to Ms May in anticipation of “unacceptable” delays to hundreds of thousands of passengers travelling over the long weekend.
The UK Border Agency is under fire for a lack of staff able to carry out full security checks, which the airlines say must result in a recruitment drive or the relaxing of some of the more stringent measures now in place.
A spokesman for the British Airports Authority (BAA), which owns Heathrow, as well as Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen airports, said: “Immigration waiting times during peak periods at Heathrow are currently unacceptable and we have called on the UK Border Force to address the problem as a matter of urgency.
“There isn’t a trade-off between strong border security and a good passenger experience. UK Border Force should be delivering both.”
A Virgin spokesman said: “While the decision on what level of check should be made at the border is, of course, a matter for government, we are concerned that there is a mismatch between policy and resource.
“After years of reducing frontline staff, returning to a 100 per cent check system will undoubtedly mean lengthy queues at UK airports over critical holiday periods such as Easter.”
More than 370,000 passengers will leave Heathrow Airport between Good Friday and Easter Monday, and 200,000 will pass through Gatwick.
And 140,000 passengers are expected to pass through Edinburgh Airport over Easter, with today the busiest day.
Gordon Robertson, head of communications at Edinburgh, said: ”We’re expecting an extremely busy day with people keen to maximise the days off they have this Easter, and as a result we are preparing for a very busy weekend here. Most people are going for short breaks, and of course we’ll be welcoming all those arriving here to spend their holiday in and around the Scottish capital.”
A Border Force spokeswoman said: “We will not compromise border security, but we always aim to keep disruption to a minimum by using our staff flexibly to meet demand.
“Carrying out full checks at airports help stop threats from terrorists, criminals and others who want to harm the UK.”
Meanwhile, Britons attempting to travel by rail and road face delays because of engineering works on motorways and train lines. Stretches of the M1 and M25 will be affected, and the seven million passengers travelling by train over the weekend will see disruption to and from London.
Travel organisation Abta said around 1.5 million people would be heading abroad for Easter.Spain is the favourite holiday destination for Britons travelling overseas, with Cyprus and Tunisia also selling well.
Top city breaks are Paris, Dublin, Amsterdam, Rome and New York, with skiers heading for Geneva.
The AA said up to 54 per cent of its members were likely to drive somewhere this Easter – with Scots set to travel furthest with an average trip of 111.8 miles. RAC patrol ambassador of the year, Kevin Andrews, said: “Although the high cost of fuel is likely to put many off travelling this Easter it’s still important for people to plan their journeys before setting off to avoid getting lost and wasting precious fuel.
“Allow plenty of time for your journey particularly if travelling at peak times.”
Among potential Easter traffic hotspots listed by the RAC was the A84 near Stirling.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east