Carrying on from my somewhat socially charged previous post (rant) on Monday, here is the explanation of how the Border Force strikes will affect incoming travellers to the UK during the festive period.
What is actually going on?
Due to dispute over pay, jobs and working conditions; the people who normally check passports and assess arriving travellers are going to walk out at the three biggest airports: London Heathrow, London Gatwick and Manchester. Border force staff at Birmingham, Cardiff and Glasgow airports will be striking as well.
Passengers at all other UK airports are most unlikely to be affected. However, almost two million passengers are booked to fly into the affected airports during the strike action which means imminent chaos. (You thought the staff shortages during the summer travel boom back in June was bad – I am sooo happy I am not one of those travellers!)
What is going to be done about the strike action?
Immigration Minister declared that the government has “robust plans in place to minimise any delays if strike action goes ahead”. Honey, the plans are going ahead. The government have counter actioned by training military personnel, civil servants and volunteers to stand in for Border Force at airports and ports.
They are deploying military personnel to aid civil authorities under the “Maca” Policy which is defined by the definite need for service people to act after other options have been discounted and when there is an urgency and a need for rapid external support. (Imagine not wanting to better people’s work conditions so much that you LITERALLY have a military protocol to avoid it but the home secretary can expense £77k on her eyebrows)
Passengers still need to be prepared for their plans to be severely disrupted for when they come to the UK.
How will affected airports be impacted?
Initially on the first day, 23 December 2022, only arriving passengers will be affected: checks could take significantly longer. Passports are not checked when leaving the UK, and so initially there should be no impediment to outbound journeys. (happy days for people like me who are flying out of Heathrow on the 23rd to Accra)
But Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester are busy airports with constrained space and little slack in the system at the best of times. It is possible that long queues for passport control could build up, leading to passengers being held on planes rather than disembarking and adding to the queue in Arrivals.
Some smaller aircrafts have fast turn around times to depart the airports – some as little as 30 minutes. So if the incoming passengers are still on board, those planes cannot go anywhere. When that happens, crowds then build up in the Departures area and the airport would soon run out of gates for arriving flights – possibly triggering cancellations and diversions and ultimately; chaos.
If I have a booked flight, can I cancel out of caution?
Unfortunately not unless you have travel insurance. Most airlines and holiday companies say normal cancellation conditions apply. Most flights are expected to operate normally and the majority of Christmas travellers should still reach their destinations.
If your flight is cancelled by any airline, normal European air passengers’ rights rules apply. If your flight is cancelled, you are entitled to be flown to your destination as soon as possible, if necessary on another airline (providing they have space onboard).
The carrier that cancels your flight must also provide a hotel and meals if necessary while you wait to travel. But no cash compensation is payable. And being Christmas, there are going to be problems finding seats on other flights.
Sooooo… I can get across the border on time, will the train strikes affect me?
Well darling, most probably if you are travelling on a day of the rail walkouts. Over 40,000 workers across Network Rail and 14 train operating companies are taking part in a series of strikes during December and January.
The industrial action is taking place on 13th, 14th, 16th and 17th December; from 6pm on 24th December until 7am on 27th December; and on 3th, 4th, 6th and 7th January.
Train services do not actually run on 25th and most of 26th December anyway, but people aiming to travel by rail to see loved ones either side of Christmas Day will be affected.
I know this was information overload but I feel like our little travel community needs to information so you can make the best out of a bad situation. This is a gentle reminder to always travel with travel insurance – if the pandemic taught us one thing is to expect the unexpected.
Failing to plan is planning to fail.
Good luck to everyone travelling to the UK!