Heathrow Airport announced on Monday that it anticipates a busy Christmas and New Year travel season. However, it reassured worried travelers that, despite a wave of strike action by Border Force officers, airlines still intend to run their regular schedules throughout December.
According to certain media reports, the government and airport operators prepared emergency contingency plans that would have required airlines to drastically cut their schedules and cancel hundreds of flights as a result of the strike action.
“The vast majority of travelers will be unaffected by Border Force strikes,” a spokesperson for Heathrow said following a weekend of travel chaos, this time caused by a freezing cold weather snap rather than strike action.
“We are doing everything we can to protect a full flight schedule on strike days, so departing passengers should expect to travel as normal,” a statement from the airport continued.
The PCS union, which represents Border Force officers, has announced an eight-day strike during the Christmas holiday, with the first of two four-day walks out starting on Christmas Eve and concluding on December 26. Beginning on December 28, the second walkout will continue until the end of New Year’s Eve.
Many arriving travelers from the UK, EU, US, and Canada will be able to utilize automated e-gates to avoid long immigration lines, according to Heathrow, while additional “contingency measures” are being developed to keep the border open.
However, the British government’s intention to train hundreds of soldiers to replace the roughly 1,000 Border Force officers who will participate in the strike has drawn criticism from the PCS union.
Union boss Mark Serwotka says its members have been offered a ‘pathetic’ 2 percent pay rise and has demanded Home Secretary Suella Braverman “put money on the table, not soldiers in airports”.
By the end of the year, Heathrow’s passenger volume is anticipated to reach 70% of pre-pandemic levels, and this Christmas, New York JFK is likely to restore its position as the airport’s top international destination.
The embattled airport manager John Holland Kaye acknowledged that certain travelers who can’t utilize the border e-gates should get in touch with their airline to see if they can travel on an alternate date, despite sounding upbeat about the travel arrangements for the “vast majority” of passengers.