Delays at Heathrow passport control left passengers queuing for more than two-and-a-half hours last month, figures have revealed.
There was only one day during July when UK Border Force achieved its target of processing 95% of passengers from Britain and outside the European Economic Area (EEA) within 45 minutes, according to data obtained by Virgin Atlantic.
The longest queue time occurred on July 6 when non-EEA visitors spent up to two hours 36 minutes waiting in immigration queues.
Virgin Atlantic said it had seen US passenger numbers increase by 20%, and was calling for urgent action to reduce waiting times and “extend the warm welcome visitors deserve”.
“Recent high profile events such as the Royal Wedding and the favourable exchange rate have contributed to increased international visits in 2018, and coupled with an under resourced Border Force has led to excessively long queue times at immigration,” the airline said.
Virgin Atlantic has 23 international arrivals per day into Heathrow and has set up a “greet and treat” service for customers - providing water and snacks – to try and improve the experience.
Craig Kreeger, chief executive, said: “This summer significant queues at Border Control mean that thousands of visitors have faced two hour queues to get their passports checked, leaving them frustrated before they’ve even started their trip.
“At Virgin Atlantic we’re doing our bit to try and help our international customers –providing extra staff, as well as drinks and snacks for the queue – but only the Border Force can resolve these unacceptable queue times and they must take action.
“We all agree that security and safety at our airports is vital and remains our top priority, but other countries are managing their borders more effectively. At a time when the UK needs to show the world it is open for business, the Government and Border Force need to provide a great first impression, for every visitor, every time.”
Kreeger echoed the call of British Airways chief executive, Alex Cruz, who last week warned that Heathrow’s queues were “significantly worse” than elsewhere in Europe.
Writing in The Times, Cruz said: “Two-hour queues are fast becoming the norm.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The vast majority of people who arrive at Heathrow get through the border within our service standards. But we understand the frustration for those who have experienced longer waits and remain fully committed to working with our partners to reduce waiting times as far as is possible.
“At the same time, we will not compromise the essential checks we carry out at the border which keep our country safe. We are making sure Border Force has the resources it needs and are deploying 200 additional staff at Heathrow over the summer.”