Notebook

May 1, 2012 7:44 pm

Memo: low-cost fix to Heathrow mess

As the queues lengthen, how to solve ‘arrivals-gate-gate’. By John McDermott

To: Prime Minister
From: Passport policy directorate
Re: Easy Immigration
cc: Damian Green; Michael O’Leary

Mea culpa. The idea was a good one. Britons love a queue. It’s our Olympic year. So we thought what better way to get foreigners in the spirit than for them to enjoy a slow shuffle towards our friendly Heathrow immigration officers?

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That, as you know, was the plan. But we have discovered there are people we care about in the queue. Heathrow was another Labour trap. The queue is one long line of egalitarianism. Arrivals from Magaluf and Monaco stand together. We have done the one thing you told us to avoid: anger Tyler Brûlé. We urgently need a peripatetic aesthete strategy. Worse, the premium economy vote lies in the balance.

You will have seen our response. We have proposed asking airlines to pay additional landing fees if they want an augmented Border Force. Airlines are furious. We don’t know why. This is blind hypocrisy – they should be flattered. They wrote the book on add-on fees. Charging for basic services also chimes with our wider public service reforms. We strongly recommend doubling-down.

Therefore, please find attached details of our eight no-frills ideas to solve the crisis some are already calling arrivals-gate-gate.

Thoughts?

1. Parachutes. Landing takes time. Passengers should be given the option – for a fee – of a near-vertical descent. Vast sponsorship potential. You could personally co-launch the scheme strapped to the deputy prime minister. Would be a strong symbol of togetherness. Air pressure issues.

2. Out-of-town immigration offices. The problem with Heathrow is that it’s too near London. Low-cost airline approach to airports suggests we should consider alternative locations for passport inspections. The queues at Doncaster-Sheffield airport move much quicker. Would need to consider cost and time of busing passengers to Yorkshire. But could also help with economic rebalancing.

3. Speedy Waiting. EasyJet’s Speedy Boarding has proved popular with passengers that want to spend more time on aeroplanes. There are dozens of people willing to pay to get on first to – as far as we can tell – enjoy the comforts of low-cost flying. We propose extending this scheme to passengers wanting to wait in the pressurised air for the queue to clear. Hijacking concerns.

4. Stand-together guarantee. Families are willing to pay extra to sit next to each other on flights. Why shouldn’t they have to pay to stand next to each other in the queue? Could consider additional charge for non-married couples to cool any heat from angry social conservatives.

5. Pringles. Despite selling for 30p in land-based supermarkets, a pack of the popular paraboloid potato chips can sell for nearly £2.50 in the air. This is what Lord Sugar, who you know from the telly, calls “margin”. The longer people wait the more they will need sustenance. Suggest offering “British Meal Deal” along with small can of John Smith’s.

6. Extra legroom. Aeroplane seats with extra space in front of them command a premium. Despite the inherent verticality of standing, some in the queue may want to pay for more space. We could offer lunging zones or – for overnight queues – camping areas. “Emergency exits” could be inserted in the cordon to create more space. It would also reduce the risk of things getting out of hand. Evidence from low-cost airlines suggest men feel special when told they are in the emergency seat, and may have to open a door.

7. Heathrow queue gift shop. Some low-cost airlines have mascots. The Heathrow queue does not – yet. We’ve spoken with the House of Commons gift store and we think we can sell “Tired Teddy” for £15 a pop. Kids will be encouraged to collect the bears so they can make their own queue at home.

8. Online immigration. Modelled on the mandatory online check-in done by some airlines. It won’t actually speed up the inspection process as they will still need to queue to drop off their passport, but it will make people feel they are well prepared. PS – If things get really ugly, we can always ask Mervyn if the next round of QE could include air miles.

john.mcdermott@ft.com

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