Thousands of air passengers have accidentally bypassed UK border checks after being sent the wrong way upon arrival to the UK.
Responsibility for directing passengers arriving to the UK on international flights to immigration for passport checks and security clearance lies with airline carriers and operators.
Misdirection occurs when passengers reach a part of the airport beyond border security, without having their passports checked or security cleared. This can happen when the incorrect doors are opened at the arrival gate or when an airline operator sends passengers to the wrong place.
Figures obtained by the Home Office reveal that 2,328 passengers were misdirected in 2017, compared with 1,364 in 2016 – an increase of 70 per cent.
The Home Office maintains that misdirected passengers are identified, however, and the necessary checks conducted. Doing so retrospectively adds an “unnecessary administrative burden”.
Ministers are considering whether to proceed with plans to impose fines upon airports and airlines of up to £50,000 for failing to direct passengers to border controls. The existing Immigration Act 2016 already enables them to exercise this power.
A spokesperson for the Airport Operators Association described border security as a “top priority”.
“We are committed to working with airlines, ground handlers and Border Force to continue on our track record.
“We do not believe that the proposed civil penalty should be part of that ongoing work as it is disproportionate in light of the numbers of passengers involved,” the BBC reported.
“The security of our border is paramount”, the Home Office insisted in a statement.
Acknowledging the “relatively small but unacceptable” number of misdirected air passengers, the Home Office said: “We are determined to eradicate these errors and believe a civil penalty is a vital tool in ensuring this happens.”