Olympic Games: Heathrow strains under biggest day in airport’s history

Posted: July 20, 2012 in travel & tourism

London’s Heathrow airport is grappling with a record passenger surge as competitors begin arriving for the Olympics amid mounting concern about travel and security arrangements for an event that starts next week.

Europe’s top air hub anticipated attracting 236,955 people yesterday, 47,000 more than the average and 3393 more than on July 31 last year, when the previous record was set. The surge has increased demands on the already stretched UK Border Force, while travellers to central London will find the main M4 highway restricted by the opening of a special lane for Olympic VIPs.

Britain’s Olympic preparations are subject to increased scrutiny after G4S Plc said last week it couldn’t meet the terms of a 284-million pound ($A443 million) contract to recruit 13,700 guards for the Games, forcing the government to assign 3500 extra soldiers to provide emergency security. About 500 multi- lingual volunteers will greet arrivals from more than 50 countries at Heathrow today, according to its owner BAA.

Olympic volunteers wait to greet arriving teams at Heathrow Airport.

“Today heralds the start of Britain’s biggest peacetime transport challenge and Heathrow’s busiest-ever period,” Nick Cole, BAA’s head of Olympic planning, said in a statement.

Competitors from countries including the US, Russia, the Netherlands, Cuba and the Ivory Coast arrived this morning, BAA spokesman Simon Baugh said, with Heathrow’s baggage carousels coping as planned with sports gear including sails from yachting teams and immigration queues lasting no more than 25 minutes.

Activity was focused on Terminal 4, the main base of SkyTeam alliance members such as Dutch carrier KLM and Moscow- based OAO Aeroflot, while most media and sponsors flew to the British Airways-dedicated Terminal 5, he said.

Waiting times at Heathrow’s immigration desks have been within targets set by the Home Office since new resources were added yesterday, BAA said in its statement. The airport operator said April 27 that waiting times had reached unacceptable levels after the Border Force was split from the Border Agency on March 1 with a brief to impose more rigorous checks.

 

Source: Bloomberg

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