Travellers could soon be allowed to pay £5 to skip passport queues at some UK airports, after a controversial scheme has reportedly been approved by the Home Office.
The charge is an attempt to cut long queues at airport immigration, but unions have labelled the idea as a gimmick.
The new charge will be on top of existing time-saving charges, like paying for priority boarding and check-in.
Earlier this summer, a Border Force whistleblower said staff were “stressed” and “cannot cope” with the number of people arriving at the hub airport. They added that large amounts of staff are on long-term sick due to the demanding nature of the job, with the airport forced to draft in extra workers from ports to help ease delays.
The CEO of Edinburgh airport, which is looking at trialling the new payment system, warned that queues at passport control could hit high levels following “very serious” staffing cuts.
A spokesperson for the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union said the scheme would exacerbate problems with short-staffing: “This is a ridiculous idea that exposes just how understaffed our borders are. What happens if everyone opts to pay £5? We’re back to square one.
“Instead of gimmicks like this, the Government needs to properly invest in staff to work at ports and airports because the shortages are there for all to see.”
Mark Gribbin, chairman of the ISU, which represents borders, immigration and customs workers, told The Guardian that staffing levels were inadequate. “There are simply not enough staff. Our members are working hours on end under oppressive, often hostile conditions,” he told members.
“Managers are under severe pressure to contain queues, creating still more pressure for frontline staff. It’s only a matter of time before [there is] serious public disorder and, who knows, even mass breach of the border.”