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London Airport (Passenger Delays)

Volume 644: debated on Monday 10 July 1961

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24.

asked the Minister of Aviation what is the average number of minutes between the time that arriving passenger aircraft from abroad come to a standstill at London Airport and the completion of immigration formalities and the clearance by Customs of passengers and baggage.

Thirty-five minutes at the North Terminal; less than twenty at the Central Terminal.

The hon. Gentleman must be aware that this compares appallingly badly with the speed and efficiency with which passengers are handled in many foreign airports, particularly in Western Europe. Recently the average in Copenhagen was 11 minutes from touchdown to getting out of the terminal building. While appreciating that the British traveller and taxpayer are saddled with old-fashioned and inefficient airports, cannot the Minister now do something to speed up this anachronistic procedure?

I do not accept either the comparison or the comment. I do not think that the time is unreasonable. Many factors have to be taken into account, including the number of passengers, the type of aircraft, whether clearing Customs with baggage, and so on. Those are only average figures.

Can the hon. Gentleman say whether any improvements will be made at the new terminal when it is ready? Will he look at the immigration procedure which sometimes causes a hold-up?

I think that times at the new long haul building should be better. Immigration is not a matter for my right hon. Friend.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the figures he has given are somewhat misleading, because at the peak hour—between six and seven o'clock—the figures are very much worse at the Central building? Will he impress on hon. Gentlemen opposite that they rushed into this business in 1946 in a desire to leave a lasting monument to themselves, without showing any imagination at all?

I do not think that I need offer any comment on the second part of the supplementary question, which speaks for itself. I was asked for the average figures, and I gave them. No doubt there are lots of other statistics, useless and otherwise, which we could give if requested.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if someone had not rushed in at that time there would not have been an airport building at all?

27.

asked the Minister of Aviation if he will take steps to improve arrangements for the handling of passengers at London Airport.

Yes, Sir. It is a continuing process. At Heathrow the new long haul building will start being used this autumn. Alterations to the short haul building are in progress and an extension of the accommodation for domestic flights has already been completed.

We all very much wish it was a continuing and visible process. Is my hon. Friend aware that, unlike the natives of this island, tourists do not have to come back? The first impression made by London Airport is, therefore, of the highest importance. Far too often, quite apart from the limitations of buildings, the handling of passengers is slovenly and discourteous, and it is high time that this was polished up.

I think that that is an exaggerated comment. We are always trying to improve the position, and we accept that the way of handling passengers is extremely important. The trouble is that air traffic business has grown very rapidly, perhaps in some ways more rapidly than our ability to cope with it effectively, but I am sure that this new building and the new arrangements which are continually being brought into force are easing the position all the time.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the opinions expressed this afternoon are not wholly shared by everyone? The reception of passengers by our Customs authorities is a good deal better than in most parts of the world, and some people who complain might like to consider what happens to passengers in New York.

Will my hon. Friend look into one difficulty? When passengers arrive by taxi or private car they have to get out on the other side of the road and hump their bags across in between moving vehicles. This is rather disgraceful and it could be put right if the Minister got down to it.