Heathrow warns of long strike delays
Airline passengers arriving at Heathrow face being held on aircraft for up to 12 hours because of a strike by immigration officers.
BAA, the airport’s owner, has told airlines that next week’s public sector strike threatens “gridlock” at the airport. In an effort to reduce the inevitable delays, carriers have been told to fly planes only half full.
Border checks are one of many services that will be badly disrupted next Wednesday, when up to
2.6 million public sector staff are due to walk out in protest over proposed pension changes.
The Treasury said yesterday that the strike could cost the economy more than £500?million.
Many schools are expected to close, forcing parents to take time off work. The disruption will mean a loss to the economy “we can ill afford”, said Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
Problems at airports will be exacerbated by the decision of the 4,000-strong Immigration Service Union to walk out alongside members of the Public and Commercial Services Union. Emergency cover on immigration desks will be offered by managers, but operators said significant disruption was inevitable.
Delays at Heathrow are expected to be particularly severe, not only because it is the country’s largest airport but also because of its flight pattern: nearly 100 long-haul services are due to arrive before 9am on Wednesday.
Normand Boivin, Heathrow’s operating officer, said: “Modelling of the impacts of strike action on passenger flows at Heathrow show that there are likely to be very long delays of up to 12 hours to arriving passengers.
“The delays at immigration are likely to be so long that passengers could not be safely accommodated within the terminals and would need to be held on arriving aircraft.
“This in turn would quickly create gridlock at the airport with no available aircraft parking stands, mass cancellations or departing aircraft and diversions outside the UK for arriving aircraft.”
Mr Boivin accused the UK Border Agency of failing to provide a contingency plan to support normal operations.
To ease the pressure, he told airlines to reduce “load factors” on inbound aircraft to 50 per cent of normal levels. Some passengers are likely to find their flights diverted to continental Europe because Heathrow’s stands are full.
Virgin Atlantic and British Airways said they would allow passengers to change their flights free of charge to enable them to avoid the anticipated chaos.