Air China Offers Fast Track Immigration Desk at London Heathrow

Air China, the China-based, state-owned airline company, is offering a fast track immigration service at London Heathrow Airport for its VIP passengers.

The airline is currently offering this facility to its First Class and Business Class passengers and PhoenixMiles Platinum members, on flights from Beijing to Heathrow London airport. On arriving at Heathrow airport, the passengers may proceed to the ‘Fast Track’ location and provide their credentials in order to benefit from the service.

Passengers will be offered an exclusive express immigration and passport control clearance service at Heathrow, with much shorter waiting periods and greater travel comfort. The offer is valid for individual VIP travellers who do not hold UK passports or the passports of any other European Union member countries.

Currently the offer is available at eight overseas airports, including Sydney Kingsford Smith International Airport in Australia, Melbourne Airport, in Australia, Paris Charles de Gaulle International Airport in France, Narita International Airport, Tokyo, Japan, Rome Fiumicino Leonardo Da Vinci’ International Airport in Rome, Italy, Milan Malpensa Intercontinental Airport in Milan, Italy, Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport in Thailand, and London Heathrow Airport.

Previously, in May 2012, the airline launched its new service from London Gatwick Airport to Beijing International Airport, four times a week, in a bid to obtain a greater share of the services to the city of London.

Air China is currently the 10th largest airline by fleet use in the world, with a fleet of 330-200 Airbus and Boeing aircraft, operating on 289 routes, serving a total of 143 cities.


UK airports scrap £9 million iris recognition scheme

Birmingham and Manchester airports have scrapped multi-million pound eye scanners, which were introduced to speed up passport control. Heathrow and Gatwick are expected to ditch their scanners after the Olympics.

The Labour government spent around £9million on the Iris Recognition Immigration System – also known as IRIS.

According to ministers the scanners were able to process travellers in as little as 12 seconds, however passengers often spent longer being scanned by the machines than when going through traditional passport control.

Some travellers have had the misfortune of getting trapped inside the scanning booth when they stopped working.

Border Agency bosses have refused to state whether the scanners will be removed completely, and announced they are ‘still considering’ the future of IRIS.

In 2004, then immigration minister Des Brown unveiled IRIS claiming it would provide a ‘watertight’ check of identities as well as slashing queues.

The system was targeted at foreign passport holders within the UK who travel frequently, and want to avoid queues. Users were required to undergo a free 15-minute registration to record the pattern of their iris every two years.

When launched the IRIS system cost £4million to run on top of its £4.9million development cost.

However plans to use the technology for UK passports were dropped after the revelation that one in ten travellers were wrongly rejected by the machine, and then were forced to wait for manual checks.

Lucy Moreton, Immigration Service Union’s general secretary said that the IRIS scheme has had problems from the beginning.

She said: “IRIS scanners are prone to throwing up false alerts when genuine travellers try to use them. We welcome the decision to phase them out”.

James Baker, of privacy group No2ID said: “This is recognition that IRIS scanning is an expensive failure. The money would be better spent employing more trained staff to use their initiative and check passports manually”.

A spokesman for the Home Office said: “We are phasing our IRIS and will be replacing it with other types of gates that non-EU passengers will be able to use”.

Article by Charlotte Greenhalgh

£9 USA ‘Entry Fee’ Attracts Criticism from European Travellers

For the last few years, the United States has been trialling an electronic visa system designed to eliminate excess paperwork and simplify the immigration process. The system, which is currently essential for those travelling from the UK or Europe, has been largely successful, saving time for those with specific travel plans and eliminating lengthy wait times in United States airports.

It’s also been, up until now, a completely free system. The economic and cultural ties between the United States and most of the European Union have made immigration between the two countries virtually seamless, helping the economies of all involved and ensuring simple travel. However, a new £9 ‘entry fee’ could bring the entire process to the ground, starting with UK-US immigration.

Starting from the 8th of September, United States authorities will levy a £9 charge against travellers entering the country from a United Kingdom airport. The move is targeted primarily at UK citizens and residents who use a compulsory Esta online booking system, and it’s been subject to immense criticism from residents of Britain and other European Union countries who travel frequently.

The fee is payable online and lasts for two years, giving UK residents unlimited entry to the United States within its period of validity. While several media outlets have reported that the fee is required before every entry to the United States, official releases have suggested that it is a one-off cost to be applied before every twenty-four months of entry into the country.

Will it cause an inconvenience for UK-based travellers? Undoubtedly. Will it be the major disaster that many are predicting? Unlikely. With a sustained tradition of USA-UK travel and cultural ties, it seems highly unlikely that a small regulatory change will cut down on EU-US travel. Registrations made before September 8th are not subject to the fee, and are recommended for frequent travellers.