Quite a while before the July 27th opening of theOlympic Games, London Heathrow Airportcelebrated the vital role it would play in the successof this year’s Games by hanging an enormous set ofOlympic rings in its busy Terminal 5. Shortlythereafter, passengers and Olympic officials resumedquestioning whether the airport was up to the task ofhandling Olympic traffic. Critics had plenty ofreasons to be sceptical in the weeks leading up to theGames.
Earlier this year, Heathrow suffered staff shortagessevere enough to cause immigration wait times inexcess of triple BAA’s target period. Travellers withBritish or E.U. passports should not wait more than 25minutes to clear customs and all other passport holdersshould be processed within 45 minutes, according toBAA’s own standards. Once in late April, manycustomers were still waiting to enter the country afterpublic transportation had shut down for the night.Heathrow and the airlines had to hire Heathrowairport taxis to take the delayed travellers home.
At the end of June, travellers arriving at Heathrowendured similar, though less severe customsfrustrations. Annoyed customers reported emptystations and queue times of up to two and one halfhours and lines up to half a mile. With such airporttraffic jams occurring under fairly normalconditions, many wondered if Heathrow could handlethe strain of processing hundreds of thousands ofOlympic athletes, officials and spectators.
To allay concerns over the airport’s readiness, BAA related that Border Force stations would be covered during the highest Olympic arrival times by Home Office personnel. The main influx of Olympic participants began on July 15th, though athletes had been filtering in for weeks. Heathrow also recruited 1,000 volunteers to lighten the workload, half of whom were called in on Monday, July 16th. Pink accreditation desks were also scattered throughout Heathrow, though they did not take the place of regular immigration procedures.
Despite the misgivings of passengers and other airportcritics, Heathrow has handled the flow of Olympicpassengers smoothly and efficiently. VIP buses werelined up waiting to take arriving teams to the OlympicVillage, and London prepared for heightenedcongestion by designating Olympic-only traffic lanes.Though these lanes have done much to expediteOlympians’ arrival at the Olympic Park, they are nothelping regular traffic.
Travellers arriving at or departing Heathrow duringthe Games would do well to hire Heathrow taxis. Ashas been previously demonstrated, immigration linescan make relying on public transportation risky.Traveling via Heathrow Airport taxi is usually quickerand more convenient anyway, especially sinceHeathrow taxis are allowed in bus lanes, unlike othercar traffic.
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