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Andy Hayes

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Heathrow: You're 'Aving a Larf

Posted: 16/05/2012 09:46

I used to think it was advisable, before entering marketing, to leave reality behind.

Now I've realised it's essential.

Last night, as I stood on the Underground platform at Leicester Square, I saw something which made me rub my eyes in wonder.

No, it wasn't a poster of RMT leader Bob Crow, announcing to London he was sick of inconveniencing hard-pressed commuters; that £45,000 a year for moving a lever forwards and backwards and pressing a button to open and close a tube train's doors is practically daylight robbery. And that, therefore, his drivers are going to forgo any further pay rises for the next five years out of sheer embarrassment at what the taxpayer is already forking out for them.

Nor was it a picture of Boris saying that yes, he's dying to be PM, and positively itching to exchange his pushbike for Dave's bullet-proof limo.

No, it was something stranger still.

I don't do Sci-Fi, but maybe this was something from that. It certainly seemed to have hailed from another planet. I'd had a single pint after work. Was my alcohol tolerance dangerously askew?

It was the following: a poster advertising Heathrow Airport. And the catchline? "Making Every Journey Better". Woah. That was just way too weird. You know those moments when you're not sure whether something is meant to be funny or not? When you're caught in a mental vortex, unable to sense the direction of thought? This was one of those.

Earlier in the day, it just so happened that the actress, Joan Collins, had flown into Heathrow and tweeted the following:

"Arrived LHR after great trip on British Airways but 1000s waiting at passport control - listen up Ms. May - need more officers!"

Now, the company that runs Heathrow, BAA, is obviously not responsible for passport control. Indeed, it recently released figures that rather embarrassed the government.

The target regarding non-EU passengers - to get 95 per cent through within 45 minutes - was missed on 23 days out of 30 during April at Terminal 5.

On the last day of last month, when immigration minister Damian Green told MPs the longest wait was 90 minutes, BAA said that, actually, the queue at Terminal 4 reached three hours.

So something is clearly amiss. What's more, the coalition is planning to cut the number of officers employed by the Border Force at British airports from 8,500 to 5000, by 2015.

Austerity is all very well. Debts should be repaid. But there are times when you have to speculate to accumulate. Effectively telling the world you are closed for business, by operating institutionally delayed entry, is clearly terrible for business. More immigration staff are not so much a luxury, as a vital necessity.

Indeed, the head of British Airways's parent company IAG, Willie Walsh, has warned that immigration delays are threatening jobs by deterring potential investors from coming to Britain.

But that's not all. In addition to the cuts in staff numbers, a new uniform is being introduced, at a reported cost of £2.5 million. It's estimated that, during a time of high unemployment, that same money could pay for 800 officers.

So the uniform rollout simply adds insult to injury.

Damian Green, talking yesterday about the wind being one of the factors causing long queues, wasn't exactly helping matters, either.

And nor is the strapline on that poster.

BAA may well be doing its utmost to make passing through Heathrow a pleasurable experience. But whenever that slogan was conceived, and with whatever intention, it is now clearly past its sell-by date.

It's not BAA's fault that a flight into Heathrow from the Mediterranean is perhaps only half the journey these days.

But Making Every Journey Better?

Really, you couldn't make it up.

 
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