How Border Force strikes will affect your Christmas travel plans

As a Border Force strike gets going, hundreds of thousands of travelers have been advised to expect delays as they set out on their Christmas travels.

Border Forceworkers are striking in a row over pay, jobs and conditions, the Public and Commercial Services union has announced.

The walk-out will impact Birmingham, Cardiff, Gatwick, Glasgow, Heathrow and Manchester airports for eight days from today, December 23 to New Year’s Eve.

Border Force officials on strike are primarily responsible for checking passports.

The Border Force strikes comes during the busiest Christmas for airports since 2019 - as the first festive period without Covid restrictions since the start of the pandemic - and coming the day before rail strikes begin.

Mark Gribbin, the general secretary of the ISU – the union for borders, immigration and customs – said the strikes targets Channel immigration offices and border ports, which are key to the importation of goods and food supplies at Christmas.

But, what will the strikes mean for travellers?

What could this mean for travellers?

Already, around 350 members of Unite, working for Menzies, are involved in the strike action, the union has said, with a walkout planned for eight days from December 23 to New Year’s Eve.

The walk-out will affect the same six airports.

Due to the ISU strike, there will be an increased likelihood of delays and cancelled flights, as well as a shortage of Christmas goods over Christmas and the new year.

The Unite strike action will lead to some flight disruption, according to the union, during the busy Christmas period and security checks at UK borders could take significantly longer than normal.

A Heathrow spokesperson told the Mirror that the vast majority of passengers are expected to be unaffected later this month and that the biggest UK carriers would not be caught up in the chaos.

The spokesperson said: “We are aware of industrial action proposed by Menzies colleagues from December 16-18.

“We encourage airport partners who would be affected to continue with their contingency planning and we will support them to minimise the impact on passengers, should the strike go ahead.”

It is believed the airlines that may be affected include Aer Lingus, Air Canada, Air Portugal, American Airlines, Austrian Airlines, Egypt Air, Finnair, Lufthansa, Qantas and Swiss Air. It is not clear how widespread the disruption will be.

The spokesperson added that there were no flight cancellations the last time Menzies workers walked out, but that there were some minor delays.

The industrial action follows a seven-hour walkout by workers with the same company in November.

What has the union’s general secretary, Mark Serwotka, said?

The union’s general secretary, Mark Serwotka, warned the strikes would escalate each week unless the Government compromised by putting “money on the table now”.

He raised the prospect of co-ordinated action with other unions involved in disputes.

He said: “We, like nurses and teachers and paramedics and other people in the public sector, have no option but to take industrial action because our members currently are skipping meals, not being able to put the heating on at home because the poverty they are living in.”

He added that the campaign of industrial action was one that is “designed to be escalated” if the Government did not meet the union’s demands. Around 1,000 Border Force workers will take part in the strike.

“Like so many workers, our members are struggling with the cost of living crisis,” he said.

“They are desperate. They are being told there is no money for them, while they watch ministers giving out Government contracts worth billions of pounds to their mates.

“Some sections of the media have accused us of playing politics with these strikes. Let me be clear: our dispute is with the employer.

“We will fight to improve our members’ pay, terms and conditions regardless of who is in Downing Street.”

What to do if you’re travelling

“First, try not to panic,” advises Travel Supermarket.

“Strikes can be called off, often at the last minute, so it’s important to stay abreast of the situation in the lead-up to your trip.

“This is not, however, always the case,” it adds.

The site advises travellers to get in touch with travel agents, tour operators or airlines beforehand to check if the proposed industrial action will affect their journey.

“If you have booked your package holiday with a tour operator, they have a responsibility to find alternative travel for you.”

By checking the airport website regularly before your flight, you can stay up to date with the latest information related to travel or possible delays caused by strike action.

What can you do if your flight is delayed or cancelled owing to strikes?

Any strikes that affect the operation of an air carrier means a person has the right to claim compensation for either a delayed or cancelled flight, as it is listed as an extraordinary circumstance.

Under the European Regulation 261/2004, a passenger has a right to make a claim if affected by strikes. The regulation lists other examples of circumstances that may be extraordinary, which include:

  • Political instability

  • Meteorological conditions incompatible with the operation of the flight concerned

  • Security risks

  • Unexpected flight-safety shortcomings

The airline must also offer a rebooking option if your flight is cancelled because of a strike.

It’s best to contact the airline or third-party booking site directly to resolve the issue.