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January 31, 2008
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Thin Blue Line

Passport to hassle
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Arriving back at Stansted last week, I was dismayed to find the formerly rather civilised approach to frontier formalities - for EU passport holders at least - replaced by something altogether more authoritarian.

Gone was the wood veneer desk and polite young person taking a cursory glance at the photo page. In its place was a bulky toll booth affair with a domineering dark blue overhead gantry emblazoned with the words "UK Border" in large lettering, and a stalag-style elevated watchtower midway along. Along with the turnstiles came new-improved extra-surly immigration officers who inspected each proffered passport from every conceivable angle (a literacy training opportunity spotted perhaps?), before running the thing through a card reader (usually several times) and typing away at a keyboard. After a further pause, while presumably the results were perused on a screen, the passport would be thrust back and the next victim summoned forward.

In place of the normal minute or two, it took me a full quarter of an hour to shuffle to the front of the queue and finally enter Britain. For the first time ever, I found myself gazing longingly at the "Other Passports" area, which was near-deserted.

Of course, I should have been forewarned since the walkways from the arrivals gate onwards had been littered with cryptic posters depicting apparently drunken footsteps weaving across the paper. Closer inspection had revealed that we should be thanking "UK Border" for the likely opportunity to queue for longer than previously to get through immigration and set off home. Well, at least they were honest.

I assume that these changes are all in the name of extra security - which may or may not be necessary. But life for the traveller has just taken a small step further down the road to barbarism and we have all been given one more reason not to fly.
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