Slow Track

arrivalsSo I’d unexpectedly been upgraded to business class on my return flight into Heathrow Terminal 3 a couple of weeks ago, and during the flight the steward had handed me a card authorising access to the ‘Fast Track’ channel at passport control. Great, I thought.

On arrival, the immigration area was jampacked and heaving with people: later, I counted 18 flights on the screens at baggage reclaim as having arrived in quick succession at Terminal 3, almost all of them long-haul (Singapore, Delhi, Muscat, Bangkok, Dubai, etc). Even the queue for EU passport-holders stretched out of the door. I sidled over to the Fast Track lane, showed my card, and joined the shortish queue.

25 minutes later I was still standing in line. Meanwhile, the entire queue of non-Fast Tracked EU passport-holders had been processed, and the hall was three-quarters empty.

You see, this was not Fast Track for EU passport-holders. Anybody and everybody who’d flown business class on the previous 18 flights was in that queue. So the two officials posted to Fast Track were having to do complete security checks on some people, with detailed questioning and referrals, before they could issue visas, as happens at the ‘Other Nationalities’ zone. Except that Other Nationalities has about 10 or 15 desks staffed, whereas Fast Track has only two.

I don’t even know who to blame: is it BAA’s fault, or the UK Border Agency, or the airlines?

Fast Track at a British airport is a relatively simple concept to grasp: obviously, it should be for EU passport-holders only.¬†Whoever is to blame, next time I’m opting for the ordinary line.


  1. C.B.Osborne

    Why should `Fast Track` only be for EU-passport holders? Why discriminate?
    They have just as much right to a FT pass as anyone else.

    1. Matthew Teller

      Thanks for the comment, Christine. I’m guessing by “they” you mean non-EU passport-holders. But discrimination is not the issue here!

      The point of Fast Track is to be fast. I would not expect to be Fast Tracked through immigration on arrival in, for instance, Saudi Arabia – since that is a country for which I need to hold a visa in advance. I would expect to be stopped, to have my visa checked closely, to be asked why I am visiting the country – perhaps more – regardless of whether I travelled business class or not. On the other hand, a Saudi passport-holder can expect to pass straight through. They would have a right to be peeved if they found themselves stuck behind a British journalist being questioned at length about his visit – not because of the journalist’s nationality, but because they simply shouldn’t have been channelled into the same queue.

      Surely it’s the same for EU passport-holders arriving at an EU airport like Heathrow?

      Fast Track is misnamed. “Business Class Arrivals Of All Nationalities” would be much more truthful!

      1. Caitlin – Roaming Tales

        Not everyone outside the EU requires a visa to visit Britain as a tourist. Saudis might (I don’t know if they do or don’t) but Australians don’t, for example.

        Fortunately since I had an Australian passport with a UK residency visa, none of this mattered. Heathrow has a separate line for residents, distinct from the EU only line and generally quicker. There’s usually no one in it.

  2. Matthew Teller

    Thanks @Caitlin – point taken. However, I still think that if the general distinction at the UK Border is between EU passport-holders (inc UK, Swiss etc) and Everyone Else – then the Fast Track lane should be reserved for EU only.

    A viable alternative might be one Fast Track lane for EU only, and another for non-EU passport-holders with UK residency/Indefinite Leave to Remain etc. But the current system makes a mockery of the concept of Fast Track!

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