With often long lines to enter the UK, I finally signed up for UK Registered Traveller earlier this year. While I’m all for saving time when crossing international borders, and I join as many plans as I can, especially when free (like with EasyPass in Germany). Eventually I got sick of the long lines when entering the UK, so I figured the non insignificant cost was worth it for me. As Murphy’s law predicts, my travel patterns have changed this year, and I haven’t had much opportunity to take advantage of this yet. Now it seems I won’t need to renew my membership.
Opening up the ePassport queues to others besides EU citizens, for free
The UK recently announced that citizens of the “Five Eyes intelligence sharing alliance” which includes the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand; plus Japan will be able to use ePassport kiosks at the UK Border. According to this article, this access will be granted by summer 2019. We’ll see about timing, but for me, my Registered Traveller membership will be up for renewal in early 2019. To be determined if it is worth paying for the gap in coverage for a few months between the end of my membership and the proposed start dates of this program.
For non EU citizens, the queues at passport control at Heathrow (and elsewhere in the UK are often quite miserable. It was enough to make me sign up (and pay for) Registered Traveller. Fast Track can help, but it isn’t always available. I’ve had flights arrive after Fast Track is closed, and I’ve flown Lufthansa into Heathrow several times, and even business class travelers don’t have access. That is likely due to the fact that EU citizens can access e-passport queues. Maybe that will change when (if?) UK leaves the EU. Hopefully an influx of more travelers with access these ePassport gates won’t back things up too much. Beyond my experiences, statistics for processing times are pretty poor, as highlighted in this article from the Mirror.
From the Bloomberg article linked above, the information below refers to the budget announced by Chancellor Philip Hammond:
Showing the political pressure Hammond is under, some measures were obviously directed at the Brexiteers, including a plan to allow citizens of the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Japan to use the e-passport gates at U.K. ports by next summer — a boon to International Trade Secretary Liam Fox — and a new 50-pence coin to commemorate Brexit.
Another quote directly from Hammond (via AUSBT):
“We’ll open the use of ePassport gates at Heathrow and other airports … currently only available to EEA nationals … to include visitors from the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Japan.”
In my experience, there is rarely much of a wait for the ePassport kiosks. I have often looked longingly as those lines as I snake around long queue waiting to speak to a UK Border officer.
To me, this change is a win. I’m all for easier customs clearance. We’ll see when this new process is actually implemented. Even though I paid for this access via Registered Traveller, free is obviously better. Hopefully ePassport gates will remain a fast and easy option when entering the UK.