the Olympic sized excuse to cover anything

 In customer service, heathrow

You may have noticed that London town is hosting a small sporting contest later this month.

When any city hosts the games, problems multiply for existing residents as we are joined by another million or so people into the mix of an already crowded city.

Given the games are some 4 weeks away, I was surprised to hear my first “It’s because of the Olympics” excuse uttered so early in the piece.

The location of this proclamation was – you guessed it – London’s Heathrow airport at 11am on a Friday morning.

I had just flown back from a business trip and I hit an 800m long queue to go through UK immigration as I am still an Australian Citizen on a UK visa.

You may have seen a previous post the last time I hit a long immigration line at Heathrow titled

Solving the Heathrow Crisis with Technology

where I discussed the opportunity that the UK Border Agency (UKBA) and Heathrow has to fix these long lines with technology.

To summarise my recent Heathrow experience, I was returning from a business trip into Heathrow Terminal 4 on Friday, and as I walked into the customs arrival hall, saw what appeared to be a fairly long line of non-EU visitors people waiting to get through UK immigration.

tensabarrierThe normal length of the queue means that the tensabarrier defined lines are normally 2/3 full.

What greeted those arriving last Friday into T4 was not only the tensabarrier queues being completely full, the queue stretched the full length of one corridor leading up to the UK border desks, then right along another corridor, then left along the majority of another very long corridor.

The photo below is the end of the queue (it literally stretches as far as the eye can see), and shows just ONE of the corridors.

I estimated the line was probably 800 metres long in total.

LHRT4-0853 arrivals

This is the longest line I have seen in any airport in my 15+ years of extensive international travel.

The real thrust of this post is the reason provided by a BAA employed Mitie security person at the head of the UK border queue.

When annoyed passengers were complaining about the wait, her response was  “it’s because of the Olympics”.

I suggested to her that as the games were 4 weeks away, the T4 LOCOG accreditation desk was empty, then the real cause of the delay might have been that only 30% of the UKBA desks were open.

Simple queuing theory would tell you that when a large number of passengers arrive at once, when you only have 3/10 aisles open, there are going to be big queues.

What surprised me was that it seemed like her employers (that would be BAA)  had told her to say this to passengers.

We should therefore expect any delay, incident, bad weather etc will be blamed on the Olympics right up to and past the actual games.

No doubt “the Olympic excuse” will be wheeled out for almost anything for years to come.

Last time I checked, London has had over 7 years to prepare and adapt for the games. In Sydney, the city coped well.

London – it is your moment to shine, and I don’t want to hear any more “Olympic excuses”.

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Based in London, Practical Futurist and former Global Managing Partner at IBM, Andrew Grill is a popular and sought-after presenter and commentator on issues around digital disruption, workplace of the future and new technologies such as blockchain. Andrew is a multiple TEDx and International Keynote Speaker.