London - Travellers are facing long delays at the UK border because scanners used to read biometric passports are being “blinded” by the sun.
The immigration hall at Stansted Airport faces west, meaning facial recognition cameras are being flooded by late afternoon sunshine that leaves some unable to “read” people’s faces.
Biometric or e-passports containing data for facial recognition cameras were meant to help cut queues for the 23 million passengers who arrive at the Essex airport ever year.
Travellers are divided into lines for those with e-passports – issued to Britons from 2006 – and older or non-EU documents.
But some complained that when e-passport gates failed to work, they were sent to the back of other queues. One annoyed passenger, Graham Matthews, tweeted: “I cannot believe how long it is taking me to get through passport control at Stansted.”
Another wrote: “Nine out of a possible 30 electronic passport readers working at Stansted arrivals! Joke.”
Dr Ralph Gross, from the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, said any camera would struggle when pointed into bright sunlight.
“The human eye is very well-adapted to handle bright lights, and the cameras are getting better but they are still not perfect,” the expert added.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “Border Force is working with Stansted Airport to resolve this issue, which has no impact on border security or the experience for the vast majority of passengers.”
A Stansted spokesperson said that it was aware of the problem and had recently installed 15 new e-passport gates.
It comes a week after a passenger at the airport sparked a security alert with a gun-shaped iPhone case in his back pocket.
Essex police tweeted a picture of the case, suggesting that the unidentified traveller could have been mistaken for a terrorist and shot by armed officers.
Train operators have also used the “wrong type of sunshine” as an excuse for delays. In January, rail passengers were told “strong sunlight” had disrupted Southeastern services passing through Lewisham, south-east London. The operator tweeted: “We had severe congestion through Lewisham due to dispatching issues as a result of strong sunlight.”
It added: “The low winter sun has been hitting the dispatch monitor which prevents the driver from being able to see.”
Many travellers were unimpressed by the explanation. Julie Clarke asked Southeastern: “How do they go on in hot countries where they have sunshine all the time?”
A spokesperson for the company said: “We know that sometimes it seems that if it is not leaves on the line or snow on the track then it is some other weather issue. But actually glare this morning made it impossible for some drivers to see the full length of their train in their mirrors before leaving stations.
“When this happens they have to get out and check to ensure everybody has got on or off the train safely before they can move.
“This can take a little more time but thankfully for all it doesn’t happen very often.”