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Heathrow airport strikes: What you need to know for your holidays

Photo of Jacob LewisPhoto of Jacob Lewis
By Jacob Lewis

1 May 20244 min read

A woman looking up at the departures board at the airport

Strike action at Heathrow airport could be about to put a dampener on travel plans for UK holidaymakers.

Various groups of airport workers, including Border Force officers, refuelling staff and other departments, have announced their intention to take industrial action over the coming weeks.

Here's what you need to know to navigate strikes and minimise the impact on your travel plans.

When are the strikes happening?

Border Force officers: From Monday, 29 April to Thursday, 2 May, Border Force staff at terminals 2, 3, 4, and 5 will be on strike, primarily affecting arrivals.

Refuelling workers: A planned strike by refuelling staff from 4-6 May has been called off after an agreement was reached between the workers and their employer, Aviation Fuel Services (AFS).

Other departments: Close to 800 workers from passenger services, trolley operations, campus security, firefighters, and airside operations will strike from Tuesday, 7 May to Monday, 13 May.

Why are workers striking?

Border Force officers are protesting against job cuts and changes to their working conditions under new roster plans. The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) trade union states that around 250 Border Force staff will lose their jobs at passport control.

The refuelling workers had planned to strike over cuts to the terms and conditions of new staff recruited since January 2024, but an agreement has been reached, and the strike has been called off.

The strike involving various departments stems from Heathrow's plans to outsource the work of passenger services, trolley operations, and campus security by June in a cost-cutting measure. Firefighters and airside operations staff are also participating in the strike, fearing they may be next in line for outsourcing.

How could this affect my holiday plans?

Border Force strike: This strike primarily affects arrivals, so passengers arriving at Heathrow during the strike period (29 April 29 - 2 May) may experience longer wait times at passport control and immigration.

Refuelling workers strike: As the refuelling workers' strike has been called off, there should be no disruption to flights due to refuelling issues during the early May bank holiday weekend.

Other departments strike: The strike involving close to 800 workers from 7-13 May is expected to cause more significant disruptions. Unite, the workers' union, has warned that this action "will inevitably cause widespread disruption across the airport, leading to delays and disruption." Passengers travelling during this period should be prepared for potential flight delays, cancellations, and longer wait times for services such as baggage handling and security checks.

Will departures be affected?

While the Border Force strike primarily affects arrivals and the refuelling staff strike has been called off, the various departmental strikes from 7-13 May involving passenger services, trolley operations, security, firefighters and airside operations are likely to cause significant disruptions to both arrivals and departures, with potential flight delays, cancellations and longer wait times for services.

What has Heathrow Airport said about the potential disruptions?

Heathrow Airport has stated that it has "robust plans in place to minimise any potential disruption" and that customers can be reassured that the airport will continue to operate smoothly, as it has during past strikes.

Will other airports be affected by the strikes?

The strikes are specific to Heathrow Airport and should not directly impact operations at other UK airports.

What happens if my flight is delayed?

For all flights departing from a UK airport, or arriving at a UK airport on a UK or EU airline, the airline must offer you care if your delay is significant. Specifically:

  • For short-haul flights (less than 1,500km), if delayed by 2 hours or more.
  • For medium-haul flights (1,500km to 3,500km), if delayed by 3 hours or more.
  • For long-haul flights (over 3,500km), if delayed by 4 hours or more.

Care includes meals, refreshments, and accommodation if an overnight stay is required, as well as transport to and from the accommodation or your home.

If you find yourself paying for essentials like food or accommodation due to the delay or cancellation, keep all receipts, as you can claim these expenses back from the airline. However, note that airlines might not cover luxury expenses or alcohol​.

What should I do if my flight is cancelled?

If your flight is cancelled, you have the right to either a full refund or an alternative flight. You’re unlikely to be eligible for compensation for any delays caused by strikes by non-airline employees, which are classed as ‘extraordinary circumstances’ outside the airline's control.

What about package holidays?

If you have booked your flight as a part of a package, contact your holiday provider for assistance as they are required to find an alternative flight for you.

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