Heathrow ‘operating as normal’ as 10-day strike by security staff begins

<span>Photograph: Jordan Pettitt/PA</span>
Photograph: Jordan Pettitt/PA

Heathrow airport said it was “operating as normal” as the first of 10 days of strikes by security staff got under way at the start of the Easter holiday period.

Passengers have been warned of potential disruption as 1,400 members of the Unite union take industrial action over pay. However, Heathrow’s chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, said passengers who were due to travel on Friday would get away.

The action primarily affects Terminal 5, which is used exclusively by British Airways. When the strike was called, BA cancelled more than 300 flights for the 10-day period until Easter Sunday to help manage the impact. The airline said the cancellations were for short-haul flights on high-frequency routes and that passengers who were most affected would fly within 24 hours of their original booking.

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Speaking in Terminal 5 to Sky News on Friday morning, Holland-Kaye said: “You’ll see it’s operating as normal. We have a lot of colleagues who have come to help us out today, both security officers and managers, who are helping out in their purple shirts, like me.

“But we also have some other agency, third-party workers who have come in to help us who are very experienced in this kind of security environment, and they’re keeping the airport running smoothly.

“So, Heathrow is operating as normal. If you’re travelling over the Easter period, don’t worry, you’ll have a good journey.”

A spokesperson said security lanes were flowing freely and that contingency plans were working well.

A total of about 1,000 extra staff have been drafted in. Unite members in the airport’s campus security, who check freight, are also on strike.

Last-ditch talks to avert the strike broke down on Thursday without Heathrow improving its pay offer. The company has offered a 10% rise after years of pay freezes.

Unite’s general secretary, Sharon Graham, said Heathrow could afford more. “In recent years it’s approved an astronomical rise in salary for its chief executive and paid out dividends to shareholders worth billions. Yet somehow Heathrow executives seem to think it’s acceptable to offer what amounts to a real-terms pay cut to its security guards and ground staff who are already on poverty pay,” she said.

Wayne King, a regional coordinating officer for the union, said the action would “undoubtedly result in severe delays and disruption to passengers across the airport”.

During the Easter getaway last year there were long queues at Heathrow and elsewhere as airports struggled to recruit staff to cope with the demand for international travel after most Covid restrictions were lifted.