‘Just travel as normal,’ Heathrow boss tells passengers as security strike begins at Terminal 5

On the first day of a strike by security staff at Heathrow Terminal 5, the airport boss is urging passengers: “Just travel as normal.”

John Holland-Kaye, chief executive of the UK’s busiest airport, told The Independent: “The airport is entirely as normal. We’re in Terminal 5, where the security officers are on strike, but there’s not a queue to be seen.

“The occasional school party will create an instant queue, but everything is flowing very smoothly.

“We’ve got a big contingency team. But we also have a lot of colleagues who have chosen to come in because they like the deal that we’ve put on the table.”

Talks with the Unite union broke down on Thursday night, signalling the start of a 10-day walk-out by 1,400 staff working at the Terminal 5 security search and at control posts around the airport.

Mr Holland-Kaye said: “We’ve been very clear, we’ve made a very generous offer, a 10 per cent pay increase that’s been accepted by the majority of colleagues here. So we haven’t changed that.

“But we have looked at some of the other terms and conditions changes that people were looking for.

“We made a new offer to colleagues last night. Unfortunately, the union hasn’t put that to their members, but we know that it has a lot of support.

“So I hope we’ll be able to resolve this quickly. But if we can’t, as you can see as a passenger, it shouldn’t matter to you.

“We will make sure you catch your flight as normal here.”

Unite had warned of “severe delays and disruption to passengers across the airport”.

The union’s general secretary, Sharon Graham, said: “Heathrow can afford to pay a decent pay rise to its workers. This is a wealthy company which is about to return to bumper profits.

“In recent years it’s approved an astronomical rise in salary for its CEO 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.

“Unite has a laser like focus on our members jobs, pay and conditions, the workforce at Heathrow airport will receive the union’s unswerving support in this fight for a decent deal.”

The pressure on Terminal 5 departures was eased on Friday because British Airways cancelled 78 flights – affecting more than 10,000 passengers. While 32 cancellations had been mandated by Heathrow airport and notified to passengers in advance, the remainder appear to have been grounded at short notice.

All other Heathrow terminals and UK airports are unaffected – though industrial action by French air-traffic control is expected to cause some delays and cancellations for the coming month.