Have you heard the big news? US passport holders can now skip the line upon arrival in the UK by using the ePassport gates! Even if you're not a regular visitor to the UK as I am, this is still going to be a big time saver at the start of your vacation.
What used to be: Until now, when you landed in the UK you would have to fill out a landing card (ideally on the plane or you risk being THAT person holding everything up and being sent to the back of the line.) Of course, if you were sleeping or didn't know to take a landing card from staff as they were being handed out, you were stuck filling it out on the go and hoping that you did it correctly. There was also the risk of being the only person for rows and rows who had a pen in your bag and feeling obligated to lend your pen out to everyone around you. Basically, landing cards were the worst and I am thrilled that we no longer need to worry about them. They were just an exercise in futility anyway since they were stamped at the border and filed away to who-knows-where and I really doubt they were that helpful to any officials who might have needed to look into something.
Once you hopefully had your landing card squared away you would wait in a line that seemed to stretch for ages. If you were lucky enough to get off the plane before most of the other 400 passengers then you could feel pretty confident that you'd be near the front of the line. If you were sitting near the middle or the back then you would be doing your own version of race walking and commanding the rest of your group to forego the bathrooms in order to beat as many people to the lines as possible. The worst.
Now: Over the past few years if you landed in the UK you probably glanced longingly (or somewhat exasperatedly) at the ePassport gates which had been rolled out for the use of British citizens, visa holders, and EU citizens. No lines, just a simple scan of your passport and face to make sure they match, and you are on your way. Now, US citizens can use the gates as well as long as you meet the following criteria: you must have a biometric symbol on the cover of your passport (rectangle with a dot in it - see picture below), are over the age of 12 (though between the ages of 12 and 17 you must be accompanied by an adult,) and are a US citizen. Just head to the gates, scan your passport, the machine scans your face and you are on your way. Easy.
Don't want the machine scanning your face? That's fine, just go the usual route and wait in the line. Keep in mind, however, that you are on plenty of cameras everywhere you go as soon as you land, so skipping this one scanner isn't doing much.
The airports in the UK that have ePassport gates are as follows: Birmingham (BHX), Bristol (BRS), Cardiff (CWL), East Midlands (EMA), Edinburgh (EDI), Gatwick North and South Terminals (LGW), Glasgow (GLA), Heathrow Terminals 2,3,4,5 (LHR), London City (LCY), Luton (LTN), Manchester Terminals 1,2,3 (MAN), Newcastle (NCL), Stanstead (STN).
Unfortunately, this exciting development also means no more stamps in your passport. This I do find rather disappointing actually. I love flipping back through the stamps in my passport and reminiscing about the wonderful places I've been and the things I have seen and done.