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Strikes For Members

UK border strikes threaten Christmas travel chaos to and from France

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UK border strikes threaten Christmas travel chaos to and from France
UK border control. Photo: Daniel LEAL/AFP

Planned industrial action by British border force staff is threatening to disrupt Christmas travel plans for people going between France and the UK - with a warning of 10-hour waits at airports. It comes on top of planned strikes on the Eurostar.

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Travellers arriving at the UK’s biggest airports over the Christmas period could face severe delays and even risk having their flights cancelled as a result of strike action by British border force staff.

Staff at the port of Newhaven will also strike, affecting ferry arrivals. 

A senior UK Border Force official told the i newspaper that “travellers can expect long queues at the airports affected by the strikes. We’re looking at similar waits as when we had all the Covid protocol issues in summer 2021 when queues of 10 to 12 hours were not unusual.”

“Passengers should also expect flight cancellations due to staff shortages,” they added, “so should keep in touch with their airlines before travel.”

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The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) has voted for strike action over pay and conditions from December 23rd until the end of the year, with the exception of December 27th, that will affect all major UK airports.

Those with travel between France and the UK planned already have to contend with possible disruption on the Eurostar, where UK-based security staff have threatened walkouts in their own pay dispute.

There are also several days of strikes planned on UK railways, and a provisional strike notice filed by French rail unions for the Christmas and New Year weekends. 

READ ALSO What you need to know about Christmas travel between France and the UK

British media outlets estimate that as many as two million passengers have booked to fly in and out the UK over the Christmas period on at least 10,000 flights scheduled to arrive at the affected airports.

Where are the walkouts?

Around 1,000 Border Force staff are set to walk out from all of the UK’s busiest airports, including Heathrow (Terminals 2,3,4 and 5), Gatwick, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, Cardiff, and also the port of Newhaven.

The strikes will fundamentally affect passport checks for arrivals into Britain, as 75 percent of passport control staff are PCS union members.

Christmas is already one of the busiest travel times of the year, and walkouts from border staff are likely to cause severe delays and cancellations. Some British media outlets are even reporting that passengers could be left to wait on their planes on the runway, something that would then have a knock-on effect on other incoming flights.

Though passports aren’t usually checked on outbound flights, arriving aircraft often turn around and set off on their next outbound journey within an hour or two. If queues for arrivals become so bad that passengers are kept on the runway, outbound flights will be delayed and departures could be cancelled.

A Home Office spokesperson said in a statement that “passengers should be prepared for potential disruption.”

Various affected airports have made preemptive statements expecting major delays and cancellations.

“We expect it will be necessary for airlines to cancel some services on the days impacted by strike action to ensure the number of arriving passengers aligns with lower UK Border Force resources,” a spokesman from Manchester airport said in a statement. “Arriving passengers should also be prepared for much longer immigration queues on strike days, owing to reduced Border Force staffing levels.”

A Heathrow spokesperson said: “The Home Office advises that immigration and customs checks may take longer during peak times on strike days… Passengers are advised to check their flight status with their airline before travelling.” they added.

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The British Transport Minister, Baroness Vere, has said that “the government does have mitigations in place,” which is thought to include army personnel and volunteers filling in for the striking staff.

What if I have flights booked?

As the strike action has just been announced, normal cancellation rules still apply (for now) so don’t cancel your flight just yet. If your flight is cancelled by the airline, however, as is expected for many carriers in the coming weeks, your regular rights will apply, including the possibility of being flown via another route, even on another airline if necessary, and hotels should be provided if you are kept overnight.

However, it is worth noting that as Christmas is a peak travel period anyway, finding extra seats as flights are cancelled may be difficult.

READ ALSO: What are your rights in France if a flight is delayed or cancelled?

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It remains to be seen if, when, and how many flights will be cancelled. Cancellations are expected by all major airports, who have advised that passengers check the status of their flights before travelling.

For those who are set on travelling, expect severe delays at passport control, and keep an eye on the status of your flight in the coming weeks. 

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juncit 2022/12/09 14:22
The Public and Commercial Services union? Got the name a bit wrong there then didn't they? Once again, both sides of the channel, poor old Jo Public is picked up and used to beat money out of the employers. I get fed up with being used as a weapon, I wish there was a way I could sue the unions for the personal, emotional and financial costs of their disruption to my family and life in a dispute over which I have no control or fault, but will eventually pay for one way or another. As for the union leaders - I wish them all a miserable Christmas.

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