Atlantic Cities
Olympics 2012

Can Heathrow Handle the Olympics?

Can Heathrow Handle the Olympics?
REUTERS

Not long after Heathrow Airport (LHR) unveiled a giant set of Olympic Rings in its Terminal 5, officials and passengers became skeptical once more of the airport's ability to handle incoming traffic for the Olympics.

While this weekend's issues at Heathrow were not quite bad as what occurred earlier this year (a shortage of staff led to many travelers being unable to clear immigration before public transportation stopped running for the night, forcing airlines to order taxis for them), a series of reports over the weekend cited unoccupied stations, waiting times that reached 90 minutes, and some passengers claiming to have waited two and a half hours.

London gets ready for the Summer Games See full coverage

BAA, the organization responsible for operating Heathrow, has a set target time for customs clearance: 25 minutes for those with U.K. and EU passports and 45 minutes for everyone else. With national delegations and athletes starting to arrive for the games, those time targets are beginning to be tested. Last Friday, passengers arriving through Terminal 4 were stuck in lines that were as long as half a mile, according to the Telegraph. Some travelers were unable to use the E-Passport lines or Iris, the airport's eye-recognition system.

BAA told the BBC that the Home Office (the U.K.'s department for immigration) will man all Border Force (part of Home Office) desks during peak Olympics arrival times starting July 15. Further assisting traffic for the Games, 1,000 volunteers will be located around the airport to help incoming athletes. A series of pink accreditation desks for Olympics travelers have been placed throughout the airport as well. Once accredited however, the athletes will still have to go through a standard customs procedure. 

More than half a million extra passengers are expected to travel through Heathrow during the Olympics.

Mark Byrnes is an associate editor at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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