According to an announcement released by the UK government this week, airport eGate trials will be opening up in airports across the country to children of the ages 10 and 11 years. This will be done in order to aid the efficiency and speed of airport transit for families in the summer of 2023.  

The announcement of these intentions was made on Tuesday the 31st of January during a conference wherein Phil Douglas, the Border Force director, informed Airport Operators Association (AOA) about the eGate trials. Douglas stated that these trials would be taking place in Heathrow, Gatwick, and Stansted in the beginning stages. This would be followed, according to Douglas, by an extension of measures to all UK airports within the next few months.  

This move was made in an attempt to lower the age barrier in time for the summer travellers this year, though this is ultimately a decision for the ministers, Douglas said. Currently, all children under the age of 12 cannot use the eGate service, ending up with many families being required to queue for manual processing at the border. 

“We don’t allow children under 12 to use e-gates because their faces change as they grow up but also because of safeguarding and the potential of children being smuggled. We’re testing to see how safeguarding processes will work,” said Douglas. “Our aspiration is to have this in place for the summer depending on the trials, but the decision will be for ministers.” 

These trials came into serious consideration following the reportedly severe disruption in UK airports during the summer of 2022 after the restart of travel following the Covid pandemic. Staffing levels at UK major airports were claimed insufficient to handle the demand of manual processing and families last summer.  

In the conference with the AOA, Douglas stated that the trial period would predominantly be to assess whether the lowered age range for children through the eGate service would increase any chances of child smuggling. He clarified that there needs to be a balance between the efficiency of processing for the families and ensuring that all safeguarding processes in place still work. 

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