Heathrow passengers to face summer of “disruption, delays and cancellations”

Image above: An airplane flying into Heathrow Airport

Substantial roster of strike dates means significant disruption could be likely

Passengers planning to use Heathrow Airport during the summer months are likely to face “disruption, delays, and cancellations,” according to Unite, the union representing the airport’s striking security staff.

The union has announced an “escalation” in a pay dispute and has called for over 2,000 security staff to go on strike for a total of 31 days between June and August.

The strike action has been timed to coincide with busy family travel dates, including the start of the main summer holidays in England and Wales, as well as the August bank holiday weekend.

In response to the impending strikes, a spokesperson for Heathrow assured passengers that every effort would be made to minimise disruption.

With strikes taking place on 24-25 and 28-30 June, 14-16, 21-24 and 28-31 July as well as 4-7, 11-14, 18-20 and 24-27 August, the key question on passengers’ minds is if and how the strikes will affect their travel plans.

Image above: An airplane flying over west London

Which terminals and airlines will be affected?

The affected workers belong to the Unite union and are employed in security search roles at Terminals 3 and 5, as well as airfield checkpoints, collectively known as “Campus.”

Terminals 3 and 5 cater to several major airlines, including Virgin Atlantic, Emirates, Cathay Pacific, American Airlines, Qantas, and British Airways. The strike action is expected to have a significant impact on British Airways’ summer schedule.

Terminals 2 and 4 will not be affected by the strikes, and many airlines operating from these terminals, such as Aer Lingus, Air Canada, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, Air France, KLM, and Qatar Airways, will continue to operate as usual.

To minimise the impact of the strikes, several measures are likely to be put into place, including airlines allowing passengers to check in cabin baggage free of charge.

Additionally, extra staff will be deployed before the security search area to assist travellers in ensuring their hand luggage complies with liquid restrictions and laptops are removed, reducing the need for detailed inspections. Heathrow may also request airlines at Terminals 3 and 5 to adjust their schedules to alleviate pressure on security checkpoints.

Image above: British Airways checkin at Heathrow Airport

Passengers will be entitled to rebook on alternative flights if flights are cancelled

In the event of flight cancellations, passengers are entitled to be rebooked on alternative flights as close as possible to their original timings. If the operating airline cannot accommodate passengers on the same day, they must be provided with a seat on another carrier. The airline is also responsible for arranging hotel accommodation and meals according to the duration of the delay.

The strike action will primarily affect outbound flights, potentially causing severe delays or cancellations. Passengers returning to Heathrow on strike days will be impacted only if their outbound flights are disrupted.

At this stage, it may not be possible to change flights to avoid strike days, although some airlines might offer flexibility closer to the departure date.

Previous strikes at Terminal 5 had minimal impact on travellers’ plans, with British Airways cancelling only one in 20 flights at the request of the airport during the initial round of industrial action.

But the scale of the upcoming strikes is more substantial, with Terminal 3 staff joining the walkouts, increasing the number of strikers to over 2,000. This will strain the airport’s resources and could potentially lead to greater disruptions.

Image above: Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham

Why are security staff striking?

The dispute between Heathrow Airport Ltd (HAL) and Unite affiliated security staff revolves around pay. Unite’s general secretary, Sharon Graham, says the strike action will persist until a fair pay offer is made to the workers. Ms. Graham said:

“Unite is putting Heathrow on notice that strike action at the airport will continue until it makes a fair pay offer to its workers.

“Make no mistake, our members will receive the union’s unflinching support in this dispute.

“HAL has got its priorities all wrong. This is an incredibly wealthy company, which this summer is anticipating bumper profits and an executive pay bonanza. It’s also expected to pay out huge dividends to shareholders, yet its workers can barely make ends meet and are paid far less than workers at other airports.”

Heathrow says its shareholders have not had a dividend since before the pandemic and that no pay-out is expected in the current financial year.

A Heathrow spokesperson said:

“Unite has already tried and failed to disrupt the airport with unnecessary strikes on some of our busiest days and we continue to build our plans to protect journeys during any future action.

“The simple fact remains that the majority of colleagues do not support Unite’s strikes. There is a two-year inflation-beating pay rise ready for colleagues, if only Unite would allow them to have a say.

“We will continue talks with Unite about resolving this issue.”