There’s one reason why I will not think twice to pay the extra miles for business class on British Airways flights into London.
It is not the seat, for the seat is the same. It is not the food, though I love the scones. Nor is it for lounge access, since I already have it by virtue of my airline status or Priority Pass membership. It is also not for the luggage, since I tend to travel light.
No, the reason is for one slip of paper that you receive when arriving into London in BA business class: a fast track invitation.
The UK Border at various London-area airports is a mess. Wait times can top several hours during peak periods and the problem seems to be worsening, not improving.
I arrived into Heathrow Terminal 3 on Wednesday evening and it was a mess. The immigration lines for non-UK/EU citizens snaked back and forth, creating, at minimum, a two-hour wait.
But I breezed through in five minutes thanks to my fast track card. One is given to every business class passenger. As I wrote about yesterday, I paid 7,750 miles instead of 4,000 miles for my ticket. Thus, for 3,750 miles I received lounge access, the middle seat next to me blocked, good service and a nice meal, and most importantly a slip of paper that saved me two hours at Heathrow. I’d say that is an incredible deal.
I hope the UK finds a way to expedite its passport control lines. In the meantime, I’m upgrading to business. For the small additional outlay in points, I consider it an excellent value proposition.
The UK’s registered traveler program (similar to US Global Entry, but works more smoothly) is available to Americans for 50 pounds per year. That’s less than the value of one business class upgrade (20k miles from the East Coast).
I think US citizens who want to see improved immigration access to the UK could begin by improving things at home. After a few experiences in the US I would provide a special line for US citizens arriving in the UK which moves at half the speed of the non-EU line.
Solve your own problems first.
Trust me, the USA is worse. I’m not defending our DHS in the least.
While clearing immigration/customs can be bad anywhere, the issue with LHR (and the UK generally) is we pay almost $100 to the British government for the privilege of entering the country, the highest such fee in the world (that is not called a visa fee) and that money is supposed to cover these airport related services. This is a lot more than the US charges and most countries charge nothing.
Phil – you managed to write that comment without waiting for someone else to do it first…
Well London is a mess, yes. But a lot, not all, of airports in the US are not better like Phil Duncan said.
The US has Global Entry available for UK citizens and the UK has the Registered Traveller scheme available for US citizens, so things are better than they seem to the casual observer.
Having said that, along with its other woeful failures, the Home Office has allowed the mess at passport control to grow, especially perverse when strong recruitment now would be worthwhile in itself and would also go some way to being prepared for our exit from the EU when a possible outcome is that EU citizens would have to use the “other” line.
I fully agree and would extend your proposal to the immigration lines in the whole EU. They should also need to clear immigration even when they just transfer …just like it’s the norm in the US.
Of course that was also a reply to Phil Duncan
It also helps that very few European airlines give their premium passengers fast-track access upon arriving. Air Serbia and Tarom are the only ones who offer that at Heathrow, I believe.
So yeah, within Europe, that would be one advantage of flying on BA in business class.
The irony is, the last time I flew Club Europe into LHR, the Fast Track line was just as bad, if not worse, than the regular one. One officer for the entire queue meant a 45-minute wait.
I agree with your thinking on this post but Just think how nice it would be if they had domestic first seats like in the USA 🙂
I always chuckle when US citizens criticise the UK border, try arriving at TBIT as a foreign visitor unable to use the ESTA machines and then see what you think of the UK and there is no fast track option!
You Brits are so touchy. No one was comparing your passport control to the USA and especially not intimating that US lines are better. They’re not. But British passport control is objectively bad compared to the rest of the EU.
You can also simply purchase this perk for ~15 GBP.
You can also simply purchase this perk for ~15 GBP.
Don’t worry, it’s about to get worse on March 30, 2019. That’s the day after Brexit.
All of those EU citizens using the e-passport gates, or going on the same lines as UK citizens with minimal to no questions asked by the immigration authorities because they have the right to enter – will be treated no differently than Americans are now.
LHR T3 passport control is the worst. IME, T2 is far more civilized, with wait times never exceeding 15 minutes (<2 min. in Fast Track). It's unfortunate that most European airlines don't offer Fast Track to premium cabin pax (https://www.heathrow.com/airport-guide/terminal-facilities-and-services/fast-track/airline-eligibility). Given the number of EU citizens on their flights, they probably don't need to distribute too many cards… Alternatively, I'd be happy if they offered them for purchase. I'd gladly pay £10 to avoid the queues, especially in T3.
As for Registered Traveller, IIRC, you have to visit the UK at least 4 times in 24 months in order to be eligible. Plus, £70/year is kind of high.
In any case, I'd agree that Fast Track alone is worth considering BA J on intra-Europe flights if a) you can't use the EU lines and b) can't get Registered Traveller.
T2 is just as bad. I have waited hours for my visiting American friends to clear following flights from the US
Echoing the above comments Registered Traveler is A.M.A.Z.I.N,G.L.Y efficient. I live in London and re-enter at least once a week. I never wait more than 3 minutes. Yesterday I was through a T3 LHR in 10 seconds (while the immigration line looked an hour+ long). You just need to have entered the UK 4x in the past two years.