How to Avoid Airport Immigration Queues

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The massive delays at Heathrow Airport this week have shown just how annoying long immigration queues can be.

After flying 10 hours across the Atlantic, there’s nothing worse than having to queue for 30+ minutes just to be let into the country.

Of course, there’s also the queue at check-in to contend with, the long lines at security and the interminable wait at the baggage carousel.

There are ways of avoiding such long queues, however, as many experienced travelers will tell you.

Here are some tips for avoiding long queues at airports:

Travel During the Middle of the Day

It sounds obvious, but one of the best ways to avoid any kind of queue is to travel when the airport is least busy (which is often during the middle of the day).

In order to avoid long immigration queues, you should aim to arrive at your destination airport anytime between 10am and 4pm. Planes are rarely full during this time, and there are generally less flights coming in and out (meaning there’s less passengers to get in your way).

Avoid Large Airports

While large ‘hub’ airports such as London Heathrow are known for their long queues, there are several smaller ‘local’ airports surrounding it (such as Stansted, Norwich and London City Airport) that by comparison rarely experience any long queues whatsoever.

Flying from these airports is therefore a good idea (if you’re looking to avoid long queues), although it should be noted that these smaller airports won’t typically fly to as many destinations as their larger counterparts, so they are not always going to be an option.

Airport queue

Sit at the Front of the Plane

A good way to ensure you’re one of the first people off of the plane after landing is to sit near the front of the aircraft (preferably in an aisle seat). Getting off the plane before everyone else means you’ll be ahead of them in the immigration queues.

Some airlines allow you to check in early (up to 24 hours in advance online) and select a seat, so be sure to take advantage of this when traveling.

Fast-Track Security

If you’re really in a rush you might want to consider paying extra for fast-track security.

Paying for this will usually cost you around $5 to $8, and allows you to bypass the normal security queues and get access to the fast-track queue.

If you’re traveling business class you’ll get access to this for free (as it’s included in the price of the ticket).

Travel with Carry-On Only

One way to avoid having to wait at the baggage carousel is to only bring carry-on luggage with you.

Of course, this limits the amount of things you can take with you, but with some careful planning and diligent packing and you should be able to bring everything you need (provided you’re not going on a long trip).

Remember that size and weight allowances for hand luggage differ from airline to airline, so be sure to check on the airline’s website for the exact specifications before leaving.

Get Yourself a Biometric Passport

Most new British passports are biometric (as of 2006) and contain a small chip inside them which stores vital information about the makeup of your face.

What is the benefit of these passports? They allow you to walk through the automatic security gates (which can be found at just about every major British airport) and avoid the long immigration queues.

Of course, with more and more people now having biometric passports, occasionally the queue to use them is longer than the ‘regular’ immigration queue, so be sure to weigh up the length of each queue upon arrival (and then pick the shortest).

How do you know if you have a biometric passport of not? At the bottom of the front cover there should be a golden rectangle with a small circle on it.


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  3. How to Get to (and From) the Airport on a Budget
  4. How to Avoid Hotel Cancellation Fees
  5. How to Avoid Your Flight Being Cancelled




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