The FCO decision to withdraw funding from the VIP lounges at airports has sparked outrage among London’s diplomatic missions, who are in shock at the “extortionate” commercial rates they will be charged.
According to a Foreign Office spokesperson, the decision to transfer the operation of the VIP suites at Heathrow and Gatwick to BAA was in line with the FCO’s commitment to the Treasury’s Comprehensive Spending Review.
The FCO will retain operation of the Royal Suite, which is reserved for UK and foreign VIPs travelling on special or charter flights, such as heads of state or government.
The move is expected to save the British taxpayer to the tune of £2 million but diplomats will now have to shell out £350 for the privilege of using the VIP suites.
“It’s outrageous,” fumed one Ambassador, who added that the free use of VIP suites is a courtesy most countries offer to diplomats.
Another said the lounge at Gatwick was shabby and did not warrant the fee. He added that waiting in the access lane behind all the airport traffic was also a serious security hazard, and suggested a separate VIP lane.
Many missions have decided to stop using the facilities altogether and use business lounges instead.
However, using normal immigration channels has raised other concerns. One is that non EU diplomats face long queues.
One diplomat suggested diplomats take advantage of the new IRIS scan service for frequent travellers to avoid the wait.
Of greater concern is the abuse some envoys suffer at the hands of rude immigration officials who fail to recognise the FCO’s diplomatic ID.
The FCO has had a tendency to dismiss complaints as “isolated incidents” but the volume of complaints received by Embassy suggests the problem is a lot more widespread.
Embassies have appealed for proper training of staff and have renewed their calls for a separate immigration queue, a facility offered in many countries.