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Looking at the border picture

90040350 1 300x194 Looking at the border pictureThere may be a wait at the UK border, but Border Force insists we can’t have our cake and eat it. While members strike over pensions, its resolve is substantiated with another foiled airline bomb plot in the US last week.

Business leaders complain their clients are being put off trading via the UK, while ordinary travellers waiting in line manage to devour two giant Toblerones and a bottle of Jameson’s before being reunited with the relative for whom they were earmarked.

Ironic then that while pressure steps up a gear at passport control, reports suggest Heathrow has concurrently become Smuggler’s Cove.

And yet perhaps we, or indeed anywhere else, have never had it so good.

I remember being strip-searched at passport control in Stockholm’s Arlanda airport. It was a couple of years after the 9/11 attacks and the world was still on edge. It was an unpleasant experience, transiently degrading, though frankly I do remember being more concerned at the vigour with which my suitcase’s contents were being muddled than with standing butt naked in the middle of an international air terminal. Clearly I was profiled as a young person likely to be carrying something naughty. Seeing as they left me without so much as a “sorry”, my family advised me to complain to the embassy. I figured I’d merely go on permanent record as someone who whinges in a time of crisis, perhaps not a good look for a Brit.

But in light of recent events I put out the feelers and have been granted a few reminders that in the grand scheme of things we might fare better than most over here.

Belinda recently transferred through Miami airport on a London-bound flight from Jamaica, and says she was instantly treated like a drug smuggler:

“We were put in this lightless pen for about four hours while they called the British Embassy. The loos were prison loos. Literally. You had to go to this police section for offenders to use the loos. When I finally got let out with about two minutes to catch my flight, I was told to chuck my luggage on this trolley pushed by some man in the concourse. No baggage check. Very odd.”

Leon had a five-hour slogging match with immigration officials at Chicago O’Hare airport, after someone in possession of his old stolen passport had already entered the country and was on the run for armed robbery. Of course border patrol were just doing their jobs here, though quite why a successful fugitive would then pop back to show passport control what they were missing is another matter.

Consider landing at Ulaanbaatar airport in Mongolia. Sarah was travelling China Eastern – “topped only by Aeroflot for the world’s worst safety record” – as they approached not so much a runway as it was a dirt track. A herd of sheep casually got out of the way so the aircraft could land.

There was no border security, and indeed a fight broke out nearby. Though Sarah did find the airport’s facilities to be nevertheless satisfactory on an international level:

“I did locate a bureau-de-change. It was a man sitting on a stall reading the paper, holding some cardboard on which he’d written exchange rates.”

It’s advisable to be aware of border security as much as they are of you. Travelling to India recently, Kerry encountered the long game.

“On entering India passport control deliberately back-stamped our passports, we didn’t realise until later,” she says. “When we tried to leave it looked like we’d overstayed our visas and then, surprisingly, would need to pay a hefty fine. Luckily they’d stamped over a dated visa so we talked our way out of it.”

And it’s not just passport control that commands the discerning traveller’s hawk-eye. Whilst on indefinite hold in the Logan’s Run-like edifice that is Moscow’s airport, Roman encountered a bizarre corruption of a more localised nature.

“I was there with £1000 in Sterling and £3000 in Thai Baht,” he says. “A girl would not sell me a cup of tea while I was stranded – she wanted $5 in US Dollars. This couple saw what was happening and gave me $10 and said don’t worry about it. The Russian girl saw this and put the price of my tea up to $10.”

Heavy-handedness versus efficiency; right to privacy versus public concern; shiny shoes versus spiky hair; ultimately Border Force is subject to that classic British conundrum of checks and balances.

With this in mind it’s interesting to note the travel industry is being is seen as an economic growth driver right now. The concern is that current turbulence (pun intended) at the borders is not a good look for all-important business travel to ‘UK plc’.

On the other hand, a sodden mood to match the weather has led to a massive increase in bookings out of here, and a consumer spending boom in travel-related industries, particularly airport retailers.

Perhaps we can use this opportunity to maintain border security, bolster our economy and keep people happy. Put tea and coffee machines at strategic intervals down the passport queues. No price tags. If nothing else at least you can Irish-up your beverage with a Jameson’s.

Kenwood Travel is a provider of luxury worldwide holidays.

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