Last summer, the UK made headlines for all the wrong reasons – and no, we’re not talking about bloody Brexit. London’s airports were under hot scrutiny, including from airline bosses for the truly staggering immigration queues airline passengers were facing. With waits lasting hours, it put a real buzzkill on the romantic idea of summer in the United Kingdom.
In response, UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced exciting new changes to the e-passport gate systems last year, which have sped up wait times for those eligible to use them. Rather than simply allowing UK and EU nationals holding electronic passports, as of May 20th, 2019 the gates will now open to nationals of eleven new countries as well.
Here’s everything you need to know about who is eligible to use the UK e-passport gates, how to use them, and whether they are better than “fast track”.
If you’re traveling on a Singaporean, USA, Norwegian, Canadian, South Korean, Icelandic, Swiss, Lichtenstein, Japanese, Australian or New Zealand passport, you can use the e-passport gates at UK airports and most border crossings.
The first thing to know is that even if you are traveling on a passport from one of these countries, you must have an electronic passport to be able to actually use them. Fortunately, there’s an international symbol for this. It’s the one directly below the words United States of America. If yours has it, you’re good to go..When it comes to actually using the machines, there are a few important points to mention as well, if you want to avoid being the person that makes everyone go “ugh” as you fail over and over again. All hats and other things which could distort your face need to be removed, and it’s best to put any shoulder bags down on the ground in front of you.
When you actually walk up to the machine, you’ll want to have your passport in hand, ready to go, in a position which puts the passport photo page face down, with the passport folded open. You’ll slide it into the scanner and then look to the right. Push it down hard, to ensure it scans. For a USA passport, and most other passports, your hand should be in the following position.
The front cover should be in front and facing up to you, with the photo page open and facing down. Just slide it forward until you can’t and push down hard with your pointer and middle finger to help the photo page scan easily.
At this point, you simply follow the prompts on the screen just off to the right, and hope that the “spinning wheel” sign then tells you to exit, and the forward gates open. If they don’t, don’t fret – it happens all the time.
You’ll simply need to join a short queue to see a physical officer, who will finish processing your immigration. This can happen for random reasons, or if you’ve had obscure recent travels and more info is needed. It can also mean you might have a faulty chip in your passport, which is a good reason to get it fixed!
Fast track is a benefit many airlines pay for, allowing business and first class passengers to utilise a special queue. For non UK/EU nationals, it’s always been hit or miss as to whether it’s actually faster, but for UK nationals it’s almost always been slower than simply going through the standard e-gates.
It will be interesting to see whether fast track becomes more valuable with more foreign nationals now able to access the e-passport lanes. If the fast track queues, suddenly offered e-passport gates only accessible to first and business passengers, there’s no doubt they would be, but if they continue to be operated by manual passport inspections, it’s almost always faster to just use the e-gates, even if you have a fast track pass…
It’s live already, so get to it…
This new and expanded e-gate acceptance is live as of today, which means there’s nothing to wait for. If you hold one of the 11 passports mentioned above, or are an EU/UK national, you can use the speedy e-gates to your advantage. Get to it!