Security Rules Threaten Chaos at UK Airports

New security procedures mandated by the Government threatens to cause chaos in the UK’s airports as the summer travel season gets into full swing.

Holidaymakers were warned yesterday to expect summer holiday travel chaos as the first signs emerged that the Government’s new border controls are causing significant delays at airports. The introduction of sophisticated scanning machinery by the newly-created Border and Immigration Agency (BIA) has doubled the time it takes to process passengers arriving back in the country. The new technology, which uses lasers to scan passports, has created havoc at Stansted airport and there have been reports of delays at Luton. Airlines fear that the problem will spread as the system is extended to other airports over the next few months.

Stephen Nelson, the chief executive of BAA, which runs the leading airports, held crisis talks yesterday with Douglas Alexander, the Transport Secretary. They were attempting to avert another summer of delays and disruptions – with the new passport controls top of the agenda.

The technology is designed to improve passport security and tighten immigration controls on all arrivals – including UK and EU citizens, who in the past have been subject to more relaxed measures.

London’s airports alone will have to handle more than a quarter of a million arrivals a day over the summer.
A BAA spokesman said last night: “We have spent over £20 million, recruited another 1,400 security staff and put another 21 checkpoints in place to handle passengers as they leave. “But it is not our job to ensure their smooth entry into the country, that is down to the Border and Immigration Agency to provide enough staff.”

The irony is that the UK likely has enough home-grown terrorists that it would be a wasted effort to send more.

At any rate, it’s absurd to risk destroying the country’s travel infrastructure, not to mention soaking the taxpayer, to achieve infinitesimal gains in security. This, in effect, hands the terrorists victory without the fuss of having to plan strikes. Why risk life and limb to instill fear and weaken a state when it’s managing to do those things well enough on its own?

UPDATE: Commenter LaurenceB guesses that a substantial number of us would gladly travel an alternative transportation system that eliminated these sort of checks, trading a small increase in risk for a large increase in convenience. I know I would.

Now, granted, this particular set of inconveniences is aimed at keeping undesirables out of the country rather than keeping terrorists off planes, which is a slightly different problem in that a relatively small number have to bear the pain while a much larger number gets the gain. That the two are grossly disproportionate is of small concern for the non-flyers. Still, it’s a good point about the larger equation.

The nature of bureaucracies, especially those that focus on a narrow task like “Homeland Security” or “protecting the president,” is that they will do everything they can think of if it will even marginally decrease their chances of failure. That it’s incredibly expensive and disruptive to do that (e.g., closing down Pennsylvania Avenue for three crucial blocks or making airline travel torture) is outside the scope of their concern.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Science & Technology, Terrorism, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. LaurenceB says:

    If there existed an alternative air travel system that did not require the security-related inconveniences and extra expenses of the current one, but was manifestly less safe, how many of us would use it?

    Personally, if that system offered me a ticket at a savings of 25% (for example), and didn’t require me to show up hours early for my flight, and didn’t require me to undress at the gate, and didn’t require that I allow the government to track my every movement, I would use that system every time I flew.

    So, what does it say about our current system that, if the free market was allowed to function normally, many of us would immediately opt out of most of the security measures that are in place?

  2. Security Rules Threaten Chaos at UK Airports

    It’s good to know they’re more effective than Maxwell Smart and the rest of the CONTROL gang.


  3. Ugh says:

    Super. The last two times I flew into London I was through customs as a non-citizen non-EU resident faster than I got back into the U.S. as a citizen.

  4. Christopher says:

    OMG I am so sick of the “it hands the terrorists victory through fear” statement!

    If liberals like James were in charge, we would not have done one thing about 9/11. Wouldn’t want the terrorist to gain victory through fear! Don’t do anything to stop their killing, that means victory through fear!

    James, u r NOT a security expert. You have NO idea whatsoever what it takes for sufficient airport or immigration security. People that do have no intention of causing increased delays but new procedures inevitably do.

    This is not the first time you have complained about security delays. STOP YOUR CRYING!!!

  5. legion says:

    Wow, Christopher… you need to cut back on the paranoia-inducing narcotics this early in the morning…

    While he’s not a raving wingnut extremist, I don’t think anyone here would consider James to be a “liberal”.

    James, u r NOT a security expert.

    And you are clearly not an English major…

    People that do have no intention of causing increased delays but new procedures inevitably do.

    Nor are you any sort of systems engineer, because that statement is flatly untrue. What inevitably causes delays are half-assed, poorly thought out, uncoordinated, and unjustifiable new procedures set up to address phantom fears rather than actual threats. And as both James and the article itself demonstrate, that’s exactly what the UK is getting.

  6. MarkT says:

    Why risk life and limb to instill fear and weaken a state when it’s managing to do those things well enough on its own?

    Like the US invading and occupying Iraq?

    PS. this is just snark intended partly for humor – since Christopher attacked James from the right, it only seemed fair to come at him from the left too.