Passenger relief as London airport nightmare fades

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Fears of massive queues at the world's busiest international passenger airport failed to materialise Wednesday, with travellers at London Heathrow reporting no delays due to public sector strikes.

Passengers on inbound flights were warned of huge queues at the immigration desks due to striking border agency staff, though airports operator BAA had reduced their initial estimates down to around three hours Tuesday.

However, international fliers arriving at Heathrow Terminal 1 reported no delays at all at passport control, as two-thirds of immigration officials turned up for work at the west London air hub.

Dawn Wilson, 28, a masters student who flew in from Los Angeles on vacation, said there had been no queueing in the arrivals hall.

"Especially because I have a US passport, I was expecting it to be a lot longer than it was," she told AFP.

"I was very relieved. When you go from reports of 12-hour delays to none.

"I didn't know anything about it before leaving as I was in packing mode, and I'm glad I didn't as I probably would have moved my flight."

She said the plane was largely empty.

"When you say 12-hour delays and you have a flexible ticket you're not going to risk it," she said.

"People definitely made arrangements to avoid it."

Officials in the arrivals hall had seats, biscuits and water on hand in case the queues built up, passengers reported.

Some passengers said they would have been prepared to fly straight back if faced with a lengthy wait.

Flights were arriving ahead of schedule and check-in desks for flights departing Heathrow were quiet.

Some airlines had agreed to reduce passenger numbers to prevent build-ups at the passport desks.

The border officials who did not turn up for work were among up to two million public sector workers in Britain on strike Wednesday over changes to their pensions, in what unions said was the biggest walkout in decades.

"There has been no serious disruption reported at UK border entry points. UK borders are open and operating," the Cabinet Office ministry said.

"Currently there are no reports of excessive queues at any port. Additionally more staff than expected have turned up to work at some ports and airports and all UK Border Agency buildings are open."

© 2011 AFP

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