Putting Others first at LHR T5 Border Control

January 10, 2009 at 1:31 am | Posted in Britain, Citizens, Heathrow, LHR, T5 | Leave a comment
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Funny how disorienting it can feel to arrive in your home country after a sleepless overnight flight only to make your way to Border Control at LHR T5 to see a sign marked ‘Others’, then another sign marked ‘Others’, and wonder if you have sleepwalked past your own citizenship category entirely …

Of course, as a returning British national, the relevant category is clearly marked on the third and fourth signs you encounter at Heathrow’s Terminal 5, along with country names for EC passport holders. However, as a welcoming experience for Brits, I’d say the sequence of signage ranks as one of the worst I’ve seen for a homecoming.

Also, on the subject of warm and hearty welcomes …

Typically, when we land back home in San Francisco, the Immigration Officer treats our children as the real human beings they are, and deserve to be acknowledged as. The kids are allowed to present their own passports, are personally handed back their own passports after inspection, and are asked which grade they are in, are teased about their hair having grown since passport photos were taken, and they are always greeted with a cheery “Welcome home!” by the Immigration Officer.  In other words, the art of conversation between officials and children in the Bay Area is alive and kicking.  Children are treated with respect.  (This is true, out and about in California, in general.)  After that friendly greeting from an official, the first signs we see after collecting our bags and passing through Customs are “Welcome to San Francisco!” and this sets the scene for our time in America. I’d say these friendly touches are good enough to lift anyone’s spirits, even after a long flight 😉

By contrast, when we land at Heathrow airport, the staff ignore children at Border Control to the extent that’s possible—officials at LHR T5 don’t even treat younger people with proper civility, in my opinion, but we remind ourselves that’s sadly true of the great British public as a whole (with generous exceptions). Bearing in mind that 12-year-olds are classed as adult passengers by airlines, thus pay full fare, one of our sons travelled as an adult with me, and the other is still classed as a child by the airline. So, when we arrived at Border Control, we each held our own passports, but were treated as a family group with me in charge of two others. Unfortunately, none of us were treated as human beings, let alone fellow citizens, by the stern, terse officer, whose only words to us were brief commands. After an unwelcoming experience, the first sign we saw in the vast empty area beyond Border Control desks was a command to not wait in that area; move on toward Baggage Reclaim instead. Fair enough, but at some point a verbal, or visual welcome to Britain would be nice, I think, after BAA have spent so much time and effort on stimulating our sensory perceptions at the entrance to the world’s favourite shopping experience … ;-(

I apologise if this post sheds a rather dismal light on Britain, but the contrast between the two places we know and love does tend to highlight the more miserable aspects of England for us: attitudes to people and especially children are much worse in Blighty than in northern California, and any prospect for more pleasant feelings towards children seem to be frowned on in the UK, and this sense of distrust starts at our borders!

P.S. I have another comparison to make between a particular building in San Francisco and a particular building at Heathrow. but don’t hold your breath for that one, as the start of school term takes priority over me rabbiting on about environmental and building sustainability issues. Suffice to say, it is worth reflecting on what our building habits and standards mean for the next generation …


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