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Britain is Open for Business: but there's a queue to get in

Virgin Atlantic has called on Border Force to act as international visitors to the UK are being greeted by wait times of up to 2hours 34 minutes to clear immigration.

Recent high-profile events such as the Royal Wedding and the favourable exchange rate have contributed to increased international visits in 2018 and coupled with an under resourced Border Force has led to excessively long queue times at immigration. 

Virgin Atlantic has seen US passenger numbers increase by 20% and is calling for urgent action to reduce the waiting times and extend the warm welcome visitors deserve. The airline has 23 international arrivals per day into London Heathrow and has set up a “greet and treat” service for customers - providing water and snacks – to try and improve the experience. 

The UK Border Force has a Service Level Agreement (SLA) to process at least 95% of non-EEA passengers, such as those from the US or China, through immigration within 45 minutes. In July there was only one day when this target was met, and the longest queue time occurred on 6 July when non-EEA visitors spent up to two hours 36 minutes waiting in immigration queues.

Craig Kreeger, CEO of Virgin Atlantic, said: “This summer significant queues at Border Control mean that thousands of visitors have faced two-hour queues to get their passports checked, leaving them frustrated before they’ve even started their trip. At Virgin Atlantic we’re doing our bit to try and help our international customers –providing extra staff, as well as drinks and snacks for the queue – but only the Border Force can resolve these unacceptable queue times and they must act. 

“We all agree that security and safety at our airports is vital and remains our top priority, but other countries are managing their borders more effectively. At a time when the UK needs to show the world it is open for business, the Government and Border Force need to provide a great first impression, for every visitor, every time.”

How do the wait times contrast to other tourist queues? List of the longest, according to TripAdvisor data from 2017:

  1. The London Eye – London, UK – 2.5 hour queue
  2. Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums – Vatican City, Italy – 2 hour queue
  3. Colosseum – Rome, Italy – 2 hour queue
  4. The Catacombs – Paris, France – 2 hour queue (up to 3-4 hours during summer)
  5. Eiffel Tower – Paris, France – 2 hour queue
  6. St. Peter's Basilica – Vatican City, Italy – 1.5 hour queue
  7. Tower of London – London, UK – 1.5 hour queue
  8. Van Gogh Museum – Amsterdam, The Netherlands – 1.5 hour queue
  9. Empire State Building – New York City, USA – 1.5 hour queue
  10. Notre Dame Cathedral – Paris, France – 1 hour (up to 2 hours for the towers)

According to Visit Britain – the UK’s tourist authority - 76% of tourists arrive in the UK by air, and they account for 87% of inbound tourist spending. 

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