Much is made of our democracy, and freedom, but everytime I return to the country via an airport, I wonder where courtesy, efficiency (or to use a more relevant public sector term effectiveness of Britain went. I am, of course, talking about our HM Customs people.)
I have travelled in the past 5 years to Italy, Spain, France, South Africa, USA, Serbia, Belgium and Ireland (there may be others but the point will be made using these anyway.)
Serbia is a good start point. A post communist country, still rebuilding after a divisive war, we entered via Belgrade Airport, which as yet, had not yet been 'made over' to be a shopping mall, and so was like a provincial airport was in Britain in the Seventies. A cup of tea, sandwich and plastic chair, whilst waiting for the flight. Passport control was exactly that. We queued in an orderly, organised manner, guided by 'uniforms' to have our passports checked and stamped. The guy at Passport control was courteous but thorough, and even though one of the party was stopped, we all got through within 15 minutes. A necessary process well handled I thought. The return journey into Birmingham Airport was a similar experience - well done Birmingham.
A trip to Rome from Stanstead, followed similar lines. (Why build an airport in the middle of nowhere I have yet to understand). Despite the national stereotype of Meditteranean laissez-faire, we were dealt with politely and promptly with a smile at the passport control. My return experience into Stanstead was different. There were only two people on the passport control for however many bucket flights were coming in on a Sunday evening. When I asked Passport control, why there weren't more people on duty, and why as a British citizen, it took so long to be processed when there were no longer any borders between EU countries. Wrong thing to do. Every detail was checked, and there was a real reluctance to let me in and I got asked my sister's name. mmmm how much do they know about us? Lesson learnt. Her Majesty may grant you permission to enter, but some trumped up official doesn't have to agree.
I caught an internal flight from Belfast to Cardiff, and again I had to go through passport control. I asked why, as it was a UK to UK flight, and photo ID was only needed to board the plane. Response was polite, but they had to check movements as known terrorists were on the plane. DON'T LET THEM THE PLANE ON THEN.
In the USA, a country that has taken homeland security to an entirely different level, (they've had to, their foreign policies over the years have been 'Shock and Awe'.) we were processed within 15 minutes, including eye photgraphy and finger-print technology, and an 'Enjoy Your Stay'. Heathrow was an entirely different experience. No queueing, no clear signage, and everyone but Her Majesty's subjects sailing through. Customs: You cannot be an illegal in your own country you know - you may find the issues are with other passports. Showing my displeasure at the Passport Control meant that I had to stand on a certain spot, in front of the desk, not at the side like everyone else, have everything checked and double checked, and it took over an hour.
In South Africa, they had special Fast Entry queues for 'Lions' tourists. Well done South Africa, that really was a welcome.
Even at Paris airport - you know the stereotype - rude Parisians, I was wished a pleasant stay and processed within minutes, but my last experience put the tin hat on it.
As usual at Barcelona Airport, my passport was checked with a smile. Our flight back to Liverpool Airport landed only 5 minutes late. Then we joined the back of a queue for Passport Control. There were no toilets to use - many people don't go on the plane, especially if close to landing, as they know that there are some waiting for them at the airport. Well that is every airport but Liverpool. So we queued and queued and queued. And didn't move. Typical I thought - late night flight, and Passport Control won't be properly manned.
When we did move it was very slow. There were tired children there, and we queued on stairs - where were the Elf and Safety people then? Probably tucked up in their beds. There were no announcements about what was going on, and people were getting fractious. Of course is you were non-EU, you sailed through, and didn't have to wait - we could have that entry point once the rest of the world was in. When we finally saw the desks, all five of them were manned. It took 75 minutes to clear passport control. This is a record. No one dared to complain, as they did not want to be delayed any further, or as I suspect, be recorded on the system as a trouble causer and have trouble everytime they re-entered the country.
Dear Liverpool Airport, here's some suggestions for improving the process. Don't land 5 planes in 10 minutes, you tiny airport can't cope. I know airlines use the rubbish slots, for cheapness, but your ground staff can't cope. You may have more expensive slots earlier - let the airlines have them. You may not make any extra money, but you won't start to lose money, because people stop using your airport, and also tell others about the experience not to use the airport. Provide toilets near Passport Control. Have Passport Control on 1 level so people don't queue on stairs and a corridor. John Lennon doesn't impress me. The Beatles Suit, 'Above us only Sky' strapline do not get me to my bed any earlier. Good Service does, and effective processes do get me to bed earlier.
Dear Customs. You already have the rosta of who's on the plane. You should be able to identify the problem passengers - start thinking how you can get the rest through a lot quickly, especially if an internal or within EU 'No Borders' Airport. Some one commented that the increased security at airports is due to trying to reduce the number of illegals, and then said that illegals are coming in on the back of lorries. Lorries aren't on planes. Do not treat UK citizens the same as those you know may be an issue. You have the rosta, The USA identifies those whilst the plane is in the air that they want to deal with - you know you could learn from that. And by the way. Shut the Channel Tunnel. That would stop a lot of the problems. It doesn't make money and in fact costs everyone of us. The ferry service was adequate and gave the continental drivers a decent break, before driving.
So what do I do? If I complain, I stand the risk of further delays on future flights returning to the UK. If I don't, the service will never improve.
Today's song: I'm Leaving on a Jet Plane, made famous by Peter Paul and Mary, written by John Denver. Who was killed when his jet plane crashed, saving us from any more dreadful songs like 'Annie's Song'. A song that I could commit murder to.