Passport e-gates to be opened to 10-year-olds in bid to ease holiday queues
Airports will open passport e-gates to passengers as young as 10 years-old this summer to speed up queues, the boss of the Border Force has said.
Phil Douglas, the chief executive of Border Force, said that reducing the minimum age for e-gates from 12 to 10 is already being tested at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports.
If the trials negate fears over an uptick in child smuggling, the rules will be changed at all airports once the plans are signed off by the Home Secretary.
Mr Douglas said his “aspiration” is for rules to be changed in time for the summer holidays to speed up queues at the border.
Speaking at an airport industry conference in London, Mr Douglas also raised the prospect of passports being scrapped completely in favour of biometric tests on arrival to the UK.
He said: “The technology exists now. But I think the public and ministers will be quite attached to having passports checked for some time.”
His comments came as Mark Harper, the Transport Secretary, sought to sooth industry fears that the emergence of a new vaccine-resistant Covid variant could automatically lead to stringent travel restrictions.
Mr Harper admitted that Boris Johnson’s administration “could have done better”.
He said that ministers had focused too much on advice from health officials, rather than thinking about the longer-term effects on people’s mental health and the financial toll on the economy.
Should a new variant emerge, Mr Harper said ministers would take a more “balanced” approach. He added: “I think that lesson has been learnt.”
Hundreds of Border Force officials will strike on Wednesday for 24 hours until 7am on Thursday in a row with the PCS union over pay.
Strikes by border officials failed to result in chaos at airports over Christmas as hundreds of military personnel stepped into the breach.
Mr Douglas also wrote to airports in advance of the industrial action asking bosses to cap the number of flights at between 70pc and 80pc of pre-pandemic levels.
Similar caps would not be in force on Feb 1 because the walkouts are not taking place during the typically-busier school holidays.
Mr Douglas did, however, warn on Tuesday that more industrial action by Border Force was likely to take place in the coming weeks and months.
He said: “We will also have, without a doubt, further periods of industrial action coming up.”
Depending on the timing of the strikes, Mr Douglas said he could not rule out asking airports to reduce flight numbers.
Meanwhile, he hit back at claims that travellers were being “waved through” without having their passports checked by members of the army during the Christmas strikes.
“[That is] completely untrue,” he said. “No one was waved through the border.”