Travellers warned of Christmas disruption amid more UK strikes
By Aine Fox, PA
Travellers have been warned to expect cancellations and delays around Christmas as strikes cause disruption.
Affected airports have voiced their disappointment at the industrial action due to be taken by Border Force workers at Gatwick, Heathrow, Manchester, Birmingham and Cardiff across eight days from December 23 to New Year’s Eve.
Some flights are likely to be cancelled, according to Manchester Airport, and the Airport Operators Association (AOA) said if the strikes cannot be averted then “concrete and deliverable contingency measures” must be put in place.
The Business Travel Association said the “entire travel support system will once more be plunged into dealing with cancellations and disruptions”.
A spokesperson said: “Further strike action puts British workers’ Christmases at risk. Hard workers up and down the country will be stranded, struggling to get home.
“The entire travel support system will once more be plunged into dealing with cancellations and disruptions rather than bookings with no financial recompense.
“We urge the Government and unions to come together to ensure there aren’t unnecessary empty chairs at this year’s Christmas table.”
Gatwick Airport said there will be additional staff around on strike days “to help with passenger welfare”.
A spokesperson said: “We are disappointed that Border Force staff have decided to take strike action at this particular time. We hope that a settlement to this dispute can be found as quickly as possible.
“We expect that flights will operate as normal and remain in regular contact with Border Force about their mitigation plans. Additional airport staff will also be made available to help with passenger welfare on strike days.”
Heathrow Airport said it will put in place “mitigation plans” on the affected days but noted Home Office advice that immigration and customs checks might take longer during peak times.
An airport spokesperson said: “We are working closely with airlines and Border Force on mitigation plans for potential strike action by Border Force officers and these plans will now be implemented for the notified days.
“The Home Office advises that immigration and customs checks may take longer during peak times on strike days, and Heathrow will support Border Force to minimise these impacts with the aim of processing passengers through the border as efficiently as possible.
“Passengers are advised to check their flight status with their airline before travelling. We encourage all parties to resolve this dispute quickly.”
Manchester Airport said it would work with airlines to ensure passengers have as much advance notice of cancelled services as possible and warned of “much longer immigration queues”.
A spokesperson said: “Unfortunately, we expect it will be necessary for airlines to cancel some services on the days impacted by strike action to ensure the number of arriving passengers aligns with lower UK Border Force resources.
“We will be working with our airlines to provide passengers with as much advance notice of cancelled services as possible, so that people have the chance to rebook their travel around the strike days.
“Arriving passengers should also be prepared for much longer immigration queues on strike days, owing to reduced Border Force staffing levels.”
A spokesperson for the AOA said: “UK airports have worked tirelessly to tackle several challenges since the reopening of international travel in order to provide a high level of service to passengers.
“The decision of Border Force staff to take industrial action is disappointing and we urge Border Force, the Home Office, and all Government departments to get back around the table to resolve these strikes before they begin or put in place concrete and deliverable contingency measures to keep the border operating smoothly.”
A Home Office spokesperson said it was “disappointed” by the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union’s decision to strike, and said the Government is working closely with all UK ports and airports and has a “robust plans in place to minimise any delays” but warned passengers to “be prepared for disruption”.
The union has already announced strikes at the Department for Work and Pensions, the Highways Agency and among driving examiners.
Meanwhile, members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) are due to strike on 13, 14, 16 and 17, as well as January 3, 4, 6 and 7.
The RAC said it is “almost inevitable” there will be more traffic on Christmas Eve as travellers unable to use trains instead take to the roads.
Spokesman Rod Dennis said: “People who normally depend on getting away by train on Christmas Eve will suffer the most thanks to the latest strikes announced. Unless they have easy access to another form of transport, their Christmas plans will be well and truly scuppered.
“It’s therefore almost inevitable we’ll see more traffic on Christmas Eve as people once again rely on cars to make their festive trips.”
Duncan Smith, from National Highways, said it is “confident we have well-rehearsed resilience plans in place to ensure the continued safe operation of our network” despite the PCS union strike, but added there is a possibility roads could be busier than usual on strike days and urged drivers to take extra care.