Airports and customer service

Two representatives of the BAA came to a Lords Committee Room yesterday to hear the comments of Parliamentarians and to answer our questions. I would like to thank them for coming.

I asked them why they had allowed such chaos in our leading airports following the change of security requirements. I pointed out that the queues were unacceptable, and reflected badly on them There were not enough security screening devices, too few lines to queue in, and a set of procedures which are comples but not necessarily helpful to achieve greater security.

They replied that service had been poor immediately following the new regulations, but felt that it is now better at their airports. They said at the beginning they lacked staff, and were now recruiting more. They claimed they were now freeing more space for more lines and machinery. In discussion it emerged that the worst delays now were caused by government services for Immigration on the way into the country, and we were reminded that the security requirements were designed by the government rather than by the BAA.

Their latter points were carefully phrased as they understandably have no wish to have a row with the government. What we do need is a sensible discussion between government and Airports over the following:

1. Will the government place enough staff and enough desks in the Passport Control area to make sure we have properly policed borders, whilst allowing most people rapid entry or exit from the country? Apparently if two jumbos land at the same time it can take 45 minutes to clear Passport Control at Gatwick.

2. Will the government review the requirements for the security checks? Why do they insist on such complex checks before getting onto a plane, leaving so many people vulnerable to terrorist attack in the departure hall before security? Have they taken on board the fact that the last terrorist incident at an airport was an attempt to burn people in the departure area by driving a vehicle at the doors and igniting it?

3. Will the government review why they have such elaborate checks for flights and no checks at all for train travel? Have they taken on board the horrendous terrorist attacks on trains on the continent?

4. Will they ask why it is necessary for most people to have to take off shoes, and for all to have to show their after shave or face cream in a plastic bag at an airport? Will they exmaine how effective the video technology assisted baggage search is, in the light of findings in the USA that in some airports too many planted devices went undetected when they tested the system? Can’t more be done by the technology? Couldn’t more be done by random sampling rather than making everyone go through the same checks?

The truth is we are more likely to intercept terrorists by surveillance, infiltration of their networks, eavesdropping and by being observant and alert. We should be concentrating on those where the authorities have reason to think they might be terrorists, rather than on most people who just wish to get on with their lives and go about their business.

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3 Comments

  1. Letters From A Tory
    Posted November 8, 2007 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    The number of security checkpoints has remained pretty static as far as my experience of Heathrow and Gatwick goes, despite the considerable increases in security measures. Surely the solution to this isn’t overly complicated?!

    Reply: Of course not, but it requires some commonsense which is in short supply.

  2. iain
    Posted November 8, 2007 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    Interesting to see BAA try to blame long queues on other people. A recent letter in the Scotsman from Struan Stevenson MEP reported long queues at Edinburgh Airport when BAA were only staffing 2 out of 8 security scanners. As Mr Stevenson put it

    "Far from providing a service to its customers, it seems that BAA is more interested in minimising its wages bill and maximising its profits at the travelling public's expense."
    http://news.scotsman.com/opinion.cfm?id=176885200

    Iain

  3. Gerry Thomas
    Posted November 8, 2007 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    I would rather have too many safety checks and feel safer in the air, I dont understand your logic , what will you say if a plane gets blown up and hundreds of innocent passengers die !

    Blame the government for lack of security , come on you cant have it both ways !

    Reply: I want effective checks. The US study has shown that some of the people supervising the elaborate luggage checks do not spot enough dangerous material if this is inserted to test them. It has also just been revealed that at one US airport they do not take the issue and use of Security passes seriously for staff. We have had past occasions in the UK when journalists have penetrated security by posing as staff members or getting jobs without proper checks on them. What checks has our government made of these things recently in the UK? Don't we need to be sure that the measures in place are effective and working. And why do we need to have checks on toiletries, and the removal of shoes? These relate to previous failed attempts to attack us – we need to be thinking of the next more likely and possibly successful method of attack and countering that. we also need to look at the danger caused by long delays trying to get airside, of an attack on people waiting in the queues.
    We also need to address the different safety standards for air and rail, otherwise it might direct more terrorist activity to rail.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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