UK airport strikes: When are they and which flights will be affected?

Aviation industrial relations threaten a summer of discontent

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Wednesday 24 July 2019 16:52
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HEATHROW STRIKE CALLED OFF THIS WEEKEND – BUT AUGUST WALKOUT THREAT REMAINS

While Heathrow’s July strikes have been called off, many more threats for journeys remain in August.

The immediate threat of a two-day strike at Europe’s biggest airport, Heathrow has been lifted. But the threat of industrial action remains at Heathrow and other airports, and pilot strikes could jeopardise journeys later in August.

Millions of passengers face disruption to their travel plans this summer. These are the key locations, dates and possible consequence.

Heathrow airport

What’s happening?

More than 4,000 workers at Heathrow airport, including – crucially – security officers, firefighters and rescue staff, are scheduled to strike on a series of dates next month.

Planned stoppages at Heathrow on Friday and Saturday, 26-27 July, have been called off while the workforce votes on a new pay offer. But the Unite union warned the strikes already announced for 5, 6, 23 and 24 August remain on the table until the result of the ballot is known.

What effect could it have?

When the series of strikes was first called, the Unite union warned: “Summer travel chaos at Heathrow airport is looming large…in a move that could potentially shut down the airport.”

The airport had promised “contingency plans that will ensure the airport remains open and operating safely”.

The key word there is “minimise”. If a reduction in fire cover meant that one of the two runways had to close, or queues for security built up and flights were delayed as a result, then the whole Heathrow operation could swiftly start to unravel.

It is Europe’s busiest airport and the world’s busiest two-runway airport.

Stansted airport

What’s happening?

Forty-three check-in staff employed by Stobart Aviation Services for easyJet contract at the Essex airport are due to strike on Friday 26 July and 15 other days through July and August – though a ballot on an improved pay offer may lead to the industrial action being called off.

What effect could it have?

The union, Unite warns: “Thousands of easyJet passengers could face severe delays.”

The airline says it has contingency plans in place and does not expect disruption.

Gatwick airport

What’s happening?

More than 100 members of the Unite union working for the security firm ICTS, and employed to scan passengers’ luggage, are voting on possible strike action. Unite is also conducting a ballot of members working for the ISS company, which provides washroom facilities at the Sussex airport.

What effect could it have?

This is another record year at Gatwick, the world’s busiest single-runway airport. With up to 150,000 passengers a day expected on key dates this summer, the union warns: “Passengers will inevitably experience delays and a poorer service.”

Management can be drafted in to cover for striking workers, though it is possible the screening process could be slower and the toilets smellier.

British Airways

What’s happening?

Three-quarters of BA’s entire pilot workforce has voted to strike in a dispute over pay: about 90 per cent of flight deck crew belong to the British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa), and of those 93 per cent voted in favour of industrial action on a 90 per cent turn-out.

A bid by British Airways for an injunction against industrial action was rejected in the High Court, but the carrier is appealing. Until that process has finished, Balpa says it will not call a strike – and has told The Independent no strike will begin before 13 August.

What effect could it have?

British Airways has contingency arrangements in place, but many of the 700 or so BA flights each day could be grounded, affecting tens of thousands of passengers. The carrier typically carries 130,000 travellers a day in August.

Ryanair

What’s happening?

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Flight crew who work for Europe’s biggest budget airline and belong to the British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa) have been sent ballot papers over industrial action in a dispute over issues including pensions, allowances and maternity benefits.

The results of the ballot are due to be announced on 7 August, with the first date for possible strike action being 21 August.

What effect could it have?

A coordinated series of strikes by Ryanair pilots across Europe – but not in the UK – in 2018 caused hundreds of flights to be cancelled.

Industrial action by British pilots would affect Stansted, Ryanair’s biggest base.

But because many of the flights touching the UK on Europe’s biggest budget airline are based in Ireland and Continental Europe, many flights would continue as normal.

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