We often deal with holidaymakers who come from outside the UK, who take holidays with their families who live here. Sometimes, those families will take a tour of Europe and like many UK holidaymakers, they sometimes suffer with holiday complaints created by EU based tour operators. These visitors are ordinary people, like you and me, and I have no doubt that they have worked hard to save their money, which for some is a trip of a lifetime. These holidaymakers have the same fears, same problems, same ambitions for themselves and their families as most UK citizens. Those who follow me will know that I have been in Brussels these past few days dealing with air passenger rights and the rights you enjoy under the Package Travel Regulations. When I arrived and departed from Brussels Airport, I found the border police to be polite, courteous and above all professional. The customs staff were relaxed and again professional. The volume of people passing through Brussels Airport revealed a cosmopolitan gathering of all people, of all nationalities, all going about their business. Last night, I flew back to a regional airport in the UK and found the manner of entry into this country to be embarrassing.
Normally when I fly back into this airport, the Brussels flight I take will simply sail through Border Control and once bags are reclaimed, a walk through the 'blue channel' will get you to the other side without any real sign of officialdom.
When our flight touched down, it was clear that a regular flight from Dubai had arrived before us.
Once inside the terminal building, our flight made its way to Border Control. Once there our flight divided with a few heading off to the 'e-passport' border. Those using that method of entry, were assisted by up to 4 members of Border staff. It was clear that the 'readers' were not working as they should be (perhaps they had an unexpected item in the 'bagging area') and each passenger was assisted by a friendly member of staff.
I do not have an 'e-passport' so I joined the EU Citizens line which I noted was surprisingly slow.
I then noticed the other lane was made up by a number of non-EU citizens who had clearly come from the Dubai flight (evidenced by their cabin bag labels). This line was made up mainly by people of Asian origin with some 'Antipodean' passengers. These passengers were made up of a mixture of young assisting the elderly, some needed assistance to help them walk, one I saw in a wheelchair.
Half the Border Control booths were clearly dedicated to administering the Dubai flight. Not one single Border staff member smiled, nor did I hear any off them say 'hello' 'thank-you' 'good-bye' in other words, no-one was seen to be practising the basic levels of common courtesy.
I saw one family who clearly didn't have sufficient or correct landing cards being told to pick up some landing cards on a small counter. When they did and completed the said forms, they returned to the booth only to be told curtly that they could not be dealt with and to 'go to the back of the queue'.
Another family had a similar landing card problem, and was repeatedly given instructions by the border staff member in what was a less than friendly manner, to the confusion of the family. There were no border guards assisting these passengers and I suspect the landing cards were written in English and French.
Before anyone jumps in here, ask yourself the question, how many times have you been asked something by a border guard or police officer say in Spain, Italy or Egypt and you didn't understand what they were saying - do you get my point that we all have language problems?
I saw another being quizzed - this one, an elderly Asian man - he was in my queue and clearly had an EU passport. The questions were loud and attracted attention and then I saw the Border staff member hold the passport up above his head, presumably looking for divine intervention.
Now you may say, these Border staff members are simply doing their job, and you would be right. However, there is a world of difference between doing your job with compassion and politeness and doing your job with no courtesy and no politeness. Imagine what your boss would say to you if you were impolite to a customer or client!
When it came to my turn to be 'checked-in' I was not greeted with a smile, a hello, in fact the Border staff member did not even look at me. The staff member took my passport and proceeded to pull off baggage labels from the back of the passport which had been placed on there by airline staff (they were clearly not a problem for the airline or border control at Brussels when it came to scanning). I was concerned that damage would be caused to the passport by her actions as many holidaymakers we have dealt with have been prevented from travelling by damage caused to their passports.
When she scanned the passport and was satisfied that I was a bone-fide member of the UK community, she handed the passport back, without looking at me or saying anything. Being unable to resist, I thanked her and wished her a good evening. She was clearly jolted by this human interaction and shakily responded 'thank-you' with her eyes gazing into the distance!
As I walked through I noticed that a clutch of police officers were standing the other side of the booths, something that I rarely see there. I was left wondering whether this was over-kill; what was so menacing about the passengers coming through the border?
I then went to reclaim my bag and would normally walk through the 'blue channel' of customs only to find that roped off; you could only walk through the 'Green Channel'. As me and my fellow passengers entered the customs area, we were met by a 'group' of customs officials, arms folded, standing aggressively, no smiles, staring at each passenger, all grouped or 'packed' together!
By this stage words were beginning to fail me except for one phrase - Welcome to Britain!
You know I could understand it if the people coming off the flight from Dubai were somehow connected to some shady activity, but it was obvious to anyone with common sense that for the most part, these were ordinary people simply here to visit their families. How I wondered would an aircraft packed with UK Package Holidaymakers feel about such treatment on their arrival in another country, or for that matter on their return to this airport, if they were treated like this or faced with 'hostile looking' officials? I don't think holidaymakers would take too kindly to the attitudes displayed last night.
I understand the frustrations of Border staff and Public Servants, but your 'employers' short-comings are not the fault of passengers of whatever nationality. It's as if this country has become fearful of anyone trying to cross our borders. I have noted this fear factor at our borders over the last couple of years, I would suggest that such an attitude or fear comes down I regret to say, right from the top and filters down into the ranks below.
Those who were responsible for managing these areas last night would do well to remember that not only had you got someone like me travelling through the airport last night, but senior business people and at least one senior Member of the European Parliament, all witnesses to this spectacle.
In this year of the Olympics and the desire to welcome the world to Britain, we will fail miserably if all our borders are staffed by such ill-mannered and aggressive looking staff. Visitors to these shores will simply return home to their countries and tell of how unwelcoming we are and how frightened we have become of the diverse world around us!