Christmas travel disruption threat for Brits

Heathrow strike
By Catherine Eade
Home » Christmas travel disruption threat for Brits

The threat of industrial action by UK Border Force and the possibility of further capacity cuts at London Heathrow mean British travellers could suffer more disruption this Christmas.

Heathrow said it is planning ahead and discussing with airlines how best to manage demand.

And Border Force is balloting members on industrial action, which is likely to lead to long queues at airports and ports.

A Heathrow spokesperson said: “We are working with airlines to agree a highly targeted mechanism that, if needed, would align supply and demand on a small number of peak days in the lead-up to Christmas.”

The airport, which is due to lift the current cap of 100,000 passengers a day this Saturday, says it is still short of 25,000 staff to meet demand at peak times.

Heathrow said it is discussing with airlines how best to manage demand over the busiest days this winter to avoid last-minute cancellations.

The spokesperson added: “Proposals for suggested approaches are not final and no decisions have been taken. Following the consultation, we want to jointly agree a proactive approach with airlines that can be implemented if needed to avoid risking last-minute disruption.

“The winter season is generally much quieter in terms of passenger numbers than the busier summer period and the blanket cap we had over the summer season is therefore not required. However, the holiday period could be the busiest period since COVID began and it’s right to plan ahead for this.

“Our focus over the coming months is to get capacity, service levels and resilience back to the high levels that they were before the pandemic.”

They added: “It may be that we don’t have to take any action.”

British Airways, the biggest airline at Heathrow, said it was unable to comment about possible flight disruptions to its services.

Meanwhile, the ISU union representing 3,500 Border Force, immigration enforcement and visa officers is balloting members over potential industrial action in support of an 8% pay rise after rejecting the Home Office’s 3% offer.

The union said it won’t take any action that would jeopardise national security, but any industrial action is likely to lead to long queues at airport and port border checks.

General Secretary Mark Gribbin said that the union was considering a longer period of industrial action over the Christmas and New Year period.

A Home Office spokesperson told Travel Gossip that the ‘precise nature of the action’ has not been determined, but they said it would be aimed at ‘causing delay’ rather than closing borders. 

“It may well be that this will lead to increased queues at border control, both at airports and seaports, over the Christmas period. However in order to protect national security action is likely to be limited to periods of hours rather than days,” they added.

The spokesperson said Border Force will ‘work closely with all UK ports and airports to ensure passengers and goods can cross the border as smoothly as possible, and will do so in the event of any industrial action’.  

“Government have robust plans in place to deploy officers flexibly to support the flow of passengers and goods at the UK border,” they added.

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