When I came back to England from Miami in July, I was given a flyer for the new IRIS program that the UK Home Office is using for passport control. It promised that I could enroll by having my eyes scanned in a few minutes, which would then allow me to use a special booth to get through immigration in the future. I just did it on my most recent trip from San Francisco, and it worked great.
I know, I know — it sounds pretty Big Brotherish to have your irises scanned. Well, the UK knows enough about me anyway, and there’s nothing like offering up a cool toy like iris-scanning booths to win over some of the gadget freak crowd.
To sign-up, you have to enroll BEFORE you leave the UK. I got really confused when I arrived from Miami, because I kept trying to find the sign-up area after immigration. There isn’t one, sadly. You’ll only find enrollment stations when you are leaving the UK.
More info on exactly where to find the stations at Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester is covered here. They promise it doesn’t take long, and that was true. No one else was waiting when I entered the office just after security at Heathrow Terminal 3. In about five minutes, they took a digital photo of me plus scanned my eyes.
You look into a little machine not unlike that scanner Mr. Spock used to stare into on the Enterprise in Star Trek. You can see you eyes reflected, with a little target area for where you eyes should be. Lean in too close, and your eyes are too big for the target. Pull back a bit, and eventually you have them in the right spot. It’s pretty easy.
That done, I left for my trip. Two weeks later, I came back in the middle of the current Heathrow security alert. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I got to immigration. It was far calmer than I expected. There were plenty of long lines, but I’ve seen worse. Perhaps all the cancellations have reduced the usual summer craziness.
I quickly spotted the two IRIS booths, neither of which were in use. I selected one, and the first door slipped open, then closed behind me. Now I was trapped in a space slightly larger than a phone booth. If my eyes checked out OK, the door in front of me would open. I leaned into the Star Trek-like scanner, aligned my eyes and waited. A few seconds later, the door slid open.
Cool! I’m usually pretty lucky coming into the UK as I get a fast track voucher if I fly business class or alternative can use a special line for those with UK visas that generally is pretty short. Still, this was even faster than both of those methods. The main downside is that it wouldn’t work for those with small children. The booths aren’t designed for two people, and the scanner is at adult eye level.
FYI, the official IRIS site is here, but the page fails to load properly. Instead, try one of the internal pages like this, and you’ll see other pages listed in the left-hand navigation with more information.