Passport e-gates to open for children aged 10 and 11

Border Force director-general Phil Douglas said a trial is being launched at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports.

31 January 2023

Families with young children could enjoy quicker journeys through airports this summer under moves to expand the use of electronic passport gates.

Border Force director-general Phil Douglas said a trial of allowing children aged 10 and 11 to use e-gates is being launched at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted but could be expanded to all airports in the coming months.

Under current rules, passengers aged under 12 are banned from using the gates, forcing families to queue for passport booths.

This meant many families were badly hit by the severe disruption caused by staffing shortages which affected UK airports last year.

E-gates use facial recognition technology to check passengers’ identities against the photo in their passport.

Mr Douglas, speaking at the annual conference of the Airport Operators Association in central London, said one of the reasons for the trials of allowing 10 and 11-year-olds to use the gates is to ensure it does not increase the risk of child smuggling.

He said: “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.”

Asked when the policy could be rolled out across UK airports, he replied: “My aspiration would be to have it in place for the summer but that depends on how the trials go.

“It would be a decision for ministers.”

Transport Secretary Mark Harper, speaking at the same event, 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.”

He added that the primary responsibility of the Home Secretary is to maintain security, but it is also making sure that “we have the best possible passenger experience”.

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