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What to do if rail strikes disrupt your airport travel plans

Photo of Jacob LewisPhoto of Jacob Lewis
By Jacob Lewis

13 December 20234 min read

Person walks along an empty train platform with their backpack and suitcase

As the UK braces for a series of rail strikes scheduled for early December, holidaymakers who plan to use the rail network to reach major airports may need to reconsider their options.

The strikes, organised by the Aslef union, are expected to disrupt services across various rail companies on different days, impacting access to several key airports across the country.

Here's an in-depth Q&A on how these strikes will affect travel to major UK airports in December.

How is transport to each airport affected?

London Gatwick Airport

December 6: Southern Railway and Gatwick Express, which provide direct services to London Gatwick Airport, will be on strike. Notably, even on strike days, a reduced number of trains will operate between London, Gatwick, and Brighton, though expect them to be more crowded, especially during morning hours.

Manchester Airport

December 3: Avanti West Coast, which offers routes from London to Manchester, will strike, impacting travellers heading to Manchester Airport. Despite the strike, Transport for Wales will provide limited services to Manchester Airport from Manchester Piccadilly, Chester, and North Wales.

December 6 and 8: Both Northern and TransPennine Express, serving the North of England and including routes to Manchester Airport, will be on strike. This could lead to significant disruptions for passengers travelling to and from Manchester Airport.

Birmingham Airport

December 2: Rail access to Birmingham Airport will be limited to Transport for Wales services from Birmingham New Street.

December 3: Avanti West Coast's strike could indirectly affect travellers heading to Birmingham Airport from London. Additionally, Chiltern Railways, connecting London with the West Midlands, will also be on strike, potentially complicating travel plans to Birmingham Airport.

December 6: West Midlands Trains, operating in the West Midlands region, will strike, directly impacting access to Birmingham Airport.

London Stansted Airport

December 5: Greater Anglia, providing direct services to Stansted Airport, will be on strike. This will majorly disrupt the primary rail link to Stansted Airport. Expect only a skeleton train service to Stansted Airport, severely limiting travel options.

London Luton Airport

December 3: Great Northern Thameslink, which offers direct services to London Luton Airport, will be participating in the strike, affecting travel plans to this airport. However, East Midlands Railway (EMR) will operate, ensuring some connectivity.

Bristol Airport

December 7: Great Western Railway and CrossCountry strikes could indirectly affect travel to Bristol Airport. The A1 Bristol Flyer provides frequent services between Bristol Airport and Bristol Temple Meads railway station, with combined rail and Flyer tickets available through Trainline.

Cardiff Airport

December 7: Great Western Railway and CrossCountry strikes could indirectly affect travel to Cardiff Airport.

London Heathrow Airport

London Heathrow will maintain accessibility via the Elizabeth Line and the Tube throughout the strike period.

Other strike days, though not directly impacting major airports, could still cause disruptions depending on where you are travelling from. Airports are advising travellers to closely monitor updates from rail companies, and consider alternative modes of transport or additional travel time.

What’s the best way to get to the airport if the trains aren’t running?

If train services are disrupted, the most convenient option is to book an airport transfer. TravelSupermarket offers a variety of transfer options, including shared shuttles, private coaches, and luxury limousines, through our partner, HolidayTaxis. These transfers can be booked up to 24 hours before departure, providing flexibility and reliability. They accommodate standard-size suitcases and hand luggage, ensuring a stress-free journey to the airport.

I’ve already bought train tickets, can I get a refund for my train travel?

If your train travel is affected by strikes, you may be eligible for a refund. Contact the train company or the retailer where you purchased your tickets for details about their refund policy. Some companies may offer full refunds, while others might provide vouchers for future travel.

It’s too difficult to get to the airport, can I cancel my holiday?

Cancelling your holiday should be a last resort. Consider alternate travel options like airport transfers, buses, or car rentals. If you still decide to cancel, check with your travel insurance and the terms of your bookings for refund or rescheduling options. Note that cancellations due to transportation strikes might not always be covered under standard travel insurance policies.

How can I stay updated on the status of my train services, and are the strikes likely to be called off?

The strikes are unlikely to be called off but you can keep up to speed on all the latest spike information by regularly checking the official websites or social media pages of the rail companies and airports for real-time updates.

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