UK operates a biometric access control system at its airports called Iris, that allows people to skip immigration queues and get automated clearance using their pre-registered biometric details. I was looking up information on how to register for this on the UK Border Agency site but it seems registration are closed now.

What does this mean? Is registration only open during certain application periods in a year, or is the Iris system being phased out?

  • Just tried it this weekend and it turns out that the queues there are slower than the queues at the normal tills. Maybe because it didn't worked at least every second time. Commented Feb 9, 2012 at 10:29
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    Maybe it is faster for UK/EU nationals since they have more immigration counters attending to them, but zipping through Iris definitely sounds more enticing to me than waiting in a slow-moving queue for 'everyone else'! Commented Feb 9, 2012 at 10:48
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    I spoke to a guy who had his iris scanned apparently you need to have it updated every 2 years and he also said half the time it doesn't work.
    – Stuart
    Commented Feb 9, 2012 at 11:18
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    There's a thread on FlyerTalk about this with lots of experiences, but little hard evidence from the border agency. The consensus seems to be that the enrolment offices have closed, and that gates are being left on until they break but won't be fixed/replaced after that.
    – Gagravarr
    Commented Feb 9, 2012 at 18:56
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    @jwenting I have seen people use it… but they don't queue as they are able to go through very quickly and get right in front of the queue for the X-ray machines. Obviously I don't know exactly how many people signed in and if that's enough to make it profitable but making it just expensive enough to limit the number of customers to whatever capacity you can handle without queues seems like the right price for such a service. If it were cheaper and more popular, people would have to wait more often and it would be less attractive.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Nov 12, 2013 at 9:21

4 Answers 4


Yes according to this article in the metro, they are no longer in use in Birmingham and Manchester and will be turned off after the Olympics in London (Heathrow and Gatwick).


The UK Border Agency has this to say:

IRIS is currently available at the following UK airports: Heathrow terminals 1, 3, 4 and 5 Gatwick North IRIS will continue to be available for registered passengers at these airports until after the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

IRIS is no longer available at Birmingham and Manchester airports.

Registration for IRIS is no longer available. All of our enrolment rooms at Heathrow, Gatwick, Birmingham and Manchester airports are closed until further notice.

In short, Yes. IRIS registration is closed.

In heathrow they are being kept in operation for existing users in the hope that it will alleviate the pressure of visitors attending the Olympics, after which point they will be scrapped there too.

I am a registered IRIS user and in my experience it is a LOT more efficient to come back into the UK using the IRIS machine, however this is primarily because when I get off a packed aeroplane, I am one of the two or three people in the queue for the IRIS machine rather than the hundred or so in the EU passport holders queue I would otherwise have to stand in.

To understand why means understanding some of the politics.

Like every single technological advancement the very first implementation of a monolithic complex system is not likely to be flawless and perfect from day one. Understanding what works well and what could be made better is an iterative process that takes time, testing and careful management.

Unfortunately, however sometimes you get a Tory government who like to march in and announce that anything that hasn't been finished or hasn't had the opportunity to prove its value yet, or simply isn't something they thought of should be scrapped to "save the tax payer money". The conservative's flawless logic being its probably much more efficient to keep our health records on little bits of paper and post them about to each other and not worry to much about border control, we can just keep all the brown people out because we've got the recipe for curry now. ... (life imitating art ?)


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    it wasn't scrapped because of politics, it was scrapped because it was an expensive failure when similar systems in use elsewhere are effective. But see my comment on the original, as well as your experience: so few people actually bother signing up for it it makes no sense paying millions a year to keep it operational for a few hundred people using it nationwide each day. Only reason I don't downvote you is because apart from the political rant your response is good.
    – jwenting
    Commented Feb 20, 2012 at 7:14

I don't have any inside knowledge so can't give any information that isn't already public, but they have upgraded the IRIS equipment in a few of the larger UK airports recently so the evidence would suggest that it is still a programme that is being actively pursued.

The fact that they are not accepting new members could be to due to budget cuts. Many government departments have had their funding reduced due to the ongoing financial crisis, and the UK border agency is no exception. Registering members requires extra staff, and perhaps they can't afford to pay for them at the moment!

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    There was an interesting comment in the FlyerTalk thread about IRIS having sped up after they deleted people who hadn't used it in 2 years. That makes me think that there are scaling issues with the database+algorithm behind it, and they can't easily make it work for very large numbers of enrolled people.
    – Gagravarr
    Commented Feb 15, 2012 at 12:32
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    @Gagravarr If you add your comments as an answer that could be a neat answer I think. Commented Feb 17, 2012 at 13:22

IRIS is being phased out, as others have mentioned, but do not confuse IRIS for the newer e-Passport system.

A sign with the IRIS logo: A sign with the IRIS logo

The IRIS programme was by enrolment only, so you had to find an open enrolment office, airside when travelling. I found this impossible, as they were always closed, and as soon as I got a new e-Passport they told me I didn't need to enrol anymore since it's already embedded (which is not strictly true).

e-Passport icon as displayed on signs and printed on passports:

e-Passport icon as displayed on signs and printed on passports

The e-Passport system is the RFID chip and wire, visible in British passports behind the photo page, and in other countries are sometimes embedded in one of the covers. Anyone with the corresponding logo on their passport can use the e-Passport gates, no enrolment necessary.

  • Not confusing Iris with e-Passport at all, the idea behind Iris is that it can be used by anyone and not just those for a compatible RFID card. Commented Mar 5, 2012 at 16:47

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