Holiday boost as children could be allowed to use e-gates

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Border Force director-general Phil Douglas said a trial is being launched at Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted. Douglas said it could be expanded to more airports in the coming months.

Under the UK’s current Border rules, families with children under 12 have to queue for one of the passport booths.

This means that families are often disproportionately impacted when airports are struggling with staff shortages.

E-gate queues are usually much shorter and the majority of passengers can pass through the system quickly.

The e-gates use facial recognition technology to check passengers’ identities against their passport.

Douglas said at an annual conference: “Part of the reason why we don’t allow children to use the e-gates is technological, because children’s faces change.

“But there’s a balance to be struck between helping families not to queue and making sure our safeguarding processes work.”

He said his aspiration was to have the new system in place by summer holidays but it would depend how the trials go.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper, said: “We have to be comfortable that the technology works for that age cohort.

“But if those trials are successful I’m sure ministers will want to make sure that we have as smooth and seamless a progress into the country as possible.”

If the system is in place for this year’s summer holidays, families might have a much smoother experience.

When the e-gate system was first introduced, only passengers over the age of 18 were able to use them.

The minimum age restriction was lowered to 12 years old in 2017 and could fall even further this summer.

British tourists are being urged to use the e-gates if they can today, as many Border Force staff are taking part in strikes.

Border Force staff are striking over pay and working conditions and also walked out over the Christmas period.

This week’s strike will last until 7am on February 2 and British tourists have been warned of possible “disruption”.

The previous set of strikes in December didn’t delay too many passengers but Border Force said crucial safety checks could have been missed.

Passengers should remove hats and sunglasses before attempting to use the airport’s e-gates.

easyJet warned: “If you’re usually able to travel with either an ID or a passport, we’d recommend that you bring your passport as these can be used at any airport with eGates in place and will help to speed up your journey.”

In future, e-gates could be ditched altogether as airports trial “contactless smart corridors” using facial recognition.

Douglas warned: “The technology exists now. But I think the public and ministers will be quite attached to having passports checked for some time.”

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