LONDON — Britain's busy airports could be gridlocked with long waiting lines over the Easter holidays because of border staff shortages, airlines including Virgin Airlines and British Airways warned Wednesday.
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The British Air Transport Association wrote to Theresa May on behalf of the 11 airlines, urging more resources to cope with the hundreds of thousands of people traveling over the long weekend.
The U.K. Border Force has cut back on staff since a decision last year to relax some passport checks, but May has reinstated the security controls — triggering concerns that there are not enough personnel to carry out such checks during peak travel seasons.
"Airlines obviously do their best to ensure their customers are looked after properly. But the government has the responsibility as well to make sure the U.K. Border Agency does have sufficient staff and resources to ensure those queues are minimum," Simon Buck, chief executive of the British Air Transport Association, told Sky News.
More than 370,000 passengers are expected to leave Heathrow airport between Good Friday and Easter Monday. About 200,000 will pass through Gatwick, London's second busiest airport, and heavy passenger flow is also expected during holidays in June to mark Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee.
"While the decision on what level of check should be made at the border is, of course, a matter for government, we are concerned that there is currently a mismatch between policy and resource," a spokeswoman for Virgin Airlines said.
BAA, the Heathrow operator, said immigration waiting times during peak periods at the airport are currently "unacceptable."
"We have called on the Border Force to address the problem as a matter of urgency," it said.
The head of the Border Force, Brian Moore, insisted that border security cannot be compromised. The force said disruption will be kept to a minimum by "using our staff flexibly to meet demand."
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