The End of IRIS at Heathrow is nigh – 15/16 September

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The UK Border Agency has finally sounded the death knell for the IRIS immigration system. This has been long awaited if unwelcome. (London Heathrow airport loses service at Terminal 3 on 15 September 2013 and on 16 September at Terminal 5.)

For those who don’t know about the scheme, it allowed pre-registered travellers to speed through immigration using their eyes. The registration offices closed some time ago, and the machines are famously unreliable. In addition the queue usually contained a lot of people who had not pre-registered and so held up everyone whilst they realised that the machine was not going to admit them. The UKBA staff didn’t like the machines as they thought they were reducing jobs.

UKBA has installed the e-passport gates, a system whereby your image as stored on a chip in your passport was compared to your face when scanned at the gate.  EEA and Swiss nationals with chipped passports can use them.

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These gates do seem to take longer and sometimes reject passports or passengers. As they require no pre-registration they are only faster if the line for the inspectors is very long. However, it seems that Heathrow staff now shepherd all-and-sundry in to these gates and so the technologically challenged just hold up everything.

However, the UKBA is saying that on 24 September a new Registered Traveller programme will launch. It’s unclear what this will be, but the web page says that it can be applied for online:

Registered traveller scheme

The registered traveller scheme launches 24 September 2013 and will improve the way regular visitors can pass through the UK border. It will initially be available at Heathrow and Gatwick airports.

Passengers can apply for the scheme if they:

  • previously registered to use IRIS;
  • are from the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia or New Zealand;
  • have completed at least 4 trips to the UK in the last 52 weeks; and
  • are a short term visitor to the UK aged over 18.

Eligible travellers will be able to apply and register online. More information will be available from 24 September on this webpage.

This might be very interesting if it is a sort of Global Entry scheme but for the UK and could well be the  arrangement for allowing UK citizens in to the US scheme. It is unclear whether you have to meet all of the criteria above or just one. It appears to exclude UK/EU Citizens.

What is not clear from the text above? The charge of course!


  1. Will miss IRIS, glad to hear there may be a replacement, even if little is known about it. Worst case, it isn’t worth it, but a least there is hope.

    Given the “and” in the third criteria, seems pretty clear that all four are required for qualification.

  2. Although the machines for the electronic passports do take longer compared to the agent picking up the passport opening it and giving it to you, the truth is that normally there a not more than an handful of people there so it never took me than 2 minutes to get through them.

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