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Heathrow chaos: Travelers spend more time in line than in the air

LONDON -- Welcome to London's Heathrow Airport -- where waiting to clear immigration can take longer than your international flight.

Some visitors have recently reported waits of more than two hours, triggering front-page headlines as Britain prepares to host the Summer Olympics from July 27 until August 12.

NBC News' Theresa Cook captured these scenes on her cellphone after arriving at Terminal 5 on a flight from Amsterdam on Monday night.

"We made it to the back of the line at 9:10 p.m. (4:10 p.m. ET) ... and finally reached the border agent's desk at 10:33 p.m.," she said. "Our flight from Amsterdam Schiphol to Heathrow was scheduled to take 55 minutes, but we made good time and landed early. That means we spent almost twice as much time getting through U.K. border control as we did in the air."

The disruption has been blamed on the reintroduction of full passport checks for all arriving passengers, following political embarrassment that checks by the U.K.'s border agency had been relaxed, apparently without the knowledge of the government. 

Heathrow feels the heat as Olympics approach

'Very apologetic'
Cook said the immigration officer who checked her passport said that he had been sent from the English Channel port of Dover to help.

"He admitted they don't have enough staff, was very apologetic for the wait and said: 'We're trying our best but clearly it's not good enough'."

Uh-oh Heathrow! Long lines, waits hit travelers ahead of Olympics

London Mayor Boris Johnson last month warned the delays were giving "a terrible impression of the U.K." and demanded action.

Heathrow typically handles an average of 190,000 arriving and departing passengers each day, but is braced for a major influx during the Olympics.

At London's Heathrow Airport, the corporate slogan is "Making Every Journey Better". An experienced Border Agency immigration worker says waits of up to three hours have left staff facing public order problems. Channel 4 Europe's Andy Davies reports.

 

BAA, the Spanish-owned company that operates Heathrow and five other U.K airports, is among those furious at the waiting times. The firm has accused Britain's border agency of not providing enough staff to conduct the necessary passport and visa checks, causing the delays and demanded Britain's interior ministry, the Home Office, takes action.  

NBC News' Theresa Cook, msnbc.com staff, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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