About a quarter of a million passengers arriving at UK airports on Friday are being warned to expect delays due to the start of Border Force strikes.
Around 1,000 members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union employed by the Home Office to operate passport booths will stand down at Heathrow, Birmingham, Cardiff, Gatwick, Glasgow and Manchester airports , and at the port of Newhaven in East Sussex.
Border Force strikes will take place every Friday through the end of the year, except December 27.
Aeronautical data company Cirium said 1,290 flights were due to land at the affected airports on the first day of the industrial action, with a total capacity of more than a quarter of a million passengers.
It’s the busiest Christmas for airports since 2019, as it’s the first festive period without coronavirus-related travel restrictions since the pandemic began.
There are fears that delays in checking the passports of arriving passengers could lead to long queues and even people being held up on planes, disrupting later departures.
Military and civil service volunteers were trained to intervene.
Border Force chief of operations Steve Dann said Wednesday that there were “solid plans in place” to limit the impact of the strikes, but that “the emergency workforce will not be able to operate with the same efficiency as our permanent workforce”.
He added that the organization cannot predict the extent of passenger delays, but “people need to be prepared for disruptions”.
The doors of the electronic passports will remain open but they will not be able to be used by all passengers, such as children under the age of 12.
The Border Force strikes are part of an ongoing program of industrial action by PCS union members in a long-running dispute over pay, jobs, pensions and conditions.
PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka urged those affected by the disruptions to express their anger against the government.
Talks have been held with ministers, but Mr Serwotka said the salary was never discussed.
“The government could stop these strikes tomorrow if it puts more money on the table,” he said.
“Like so many workers, Border Force employees are grappling with the cost of living crisis. They are desperate.
Picket lines will be set up outside the airports affected by the strike on Friday morning.
The worst disruption could be at Heathrow – the UK’s busiest airport – where 579 flights are due to land on Friday.
An estimated 10,000 passengers will be on flights landing at West London Airport before 7am alone.
The first flight – a British Airways service from Cape Town – is due to land at 4.45am.
Cirium said a total of 8,910 inbound flights with a combined capacity of nearly 1.8 million seats are scheduled at affected airports during all strike days.
Many airline passengers will also be affected by a strike by thousands of members of Network Rail’s rail, maritime and transport union on Christmas Eve, which will see rail services shut down around 3pm.
Many (passengers) are likely to face longer queues and delays during this festive period, and some may find themselves stranded as planes arrive before being allowed into terminals
Paul Charles, PC Agency
Paul Charles, managing director of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: ‘It’s the uncertainty that passengers are worried about, as they have no idea how the strikes will impact their arrival experience.
“Many are likely to face longer queues and delays during this festive period, and some may find themselves stranded as planes arrive before being allowed into terminals.
“Hopefully border officials can process all passengers smoothly and without worry.”
Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of Advantage Travel Partnership, a network of over 700 UK travel agents, said: “It’s a real shame that travelers face such disruption at this time of year. , especially since it’s the first Christmas when people should be able to travel freely after the pandemic.
“Anyone traveling over the next few days will have spent a lot of money spending the Christmas holidays abroad and these strikes will impact their plans.
“We encourage all parties to resolve these disputes as soon as possible to ensure that everyone traveling can enjoy their well-deserved Christmas and New Year vacations.”