[UPDATED] Border Force officers at selected airports in England, Scotland and Wales are set to take strike action on eight days over Christmas, the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) has announced.
PCS members employed by the Home Office on passport control will take action at multiple ports of entry to the UK, including London Heathrow, London Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff and Glasgow airports on eight dates from 23-31 December, including Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve (23, 24, 25, 26 28, 29, 30 and 31 December) as part of a national industrial relations dispute, unless a resolution can be reached.
TRBusiness contacted several of the affected operators for comment who said they are working to help minimise any potential impact on travellers.
It is understood that, as only inbound passengers would potentially be affected, any strike action is generally unlikely to impact on airport retail over the festive period.
“We don’t foresee any impact on retail spend within BHX as the majority of our concessions are for outbound customers, who won’t be affected by the UK Border Force strikes,” said a spokesperson for Birmingham Airport (BHX).
“Dwell times in our outlets are currently very good and our concession partners are geared up for the festive period, including offering the convenience of click and collect at WDF.”
As BHX, flights will operate as scheduled on days when Border Force employees go on strike and a contingency team of Ministry of Defence personnel will cover absent Border Force workers at the hub.
“Throughout the Border Force strike period, we and our airlines partners will operate our normal schedule of flights both in and out of Birmingham Airport,” said Nick Barton, chief executive of Birmingham Airport.
“The Border Force strike will not affect any departing passengers, irrespective of destination, and for inbound passengers we have mitigation plans which aim to make their entry into the UK as swift and easy as possible.”
A Heathrow spokesperson said: “Our priority is to ensure passengers get through the border safely and as quickly as possible.
“We are working closely with airlines and Border Force on mitigation plans for potential strike action by Border Force officers and these plans will now be implemented for the notified days.
“The Home Office advises that immigration and customs checks may take longer during peak times on strike days, and Heathrow will support Border Force to minimise these impacts with the aim of processing passengers through the border as efficiently as possible. Passengers are advised to check their flight status with their airline before travelling. We encourage all parties to resolve this dispute quickly.”
Over three million people are expected to travel through Heathrow over the Christmas fortnight and the airport has refreshed its range of shops, restaurants and services in anticipation of the festive rush, with a Chanel N°5 Spaceship Pop-up in the departure lounge at Terminal 5 and a Paco Rabanne experiential concept for the brand’s latest fragrance, Phantom, at Terminal 2 departures among the new reveals.
The airport has also unveiled an expanded Reserve & Collect service, giving passengers the option to purchase a wide-range of gifts from retailers on and off the airport ahead of their travels, as well as Heathrow Highlights (an online guide to the best shopping and F&B options at the airport this Christmas).
Winter sales at the hub so far show that sales are already up on last year, with passengers making a beeline for Christmas gifts across a variety of categories, from perfumes and Christmas gift sets to handbags, jewellery and more.
Heathrow’s research also shows that on average, travellers are spending an extra hour at the airport compared to pre-pandemic, to shop for festive treats and gifts for themselves and loved ones.
Swift resolution encouraged
Regarding the Home Office employed Border Force staff strike action, a Gatwick Airport spokesperson said: “We are disappointed that Border Force staff have decided to take strike action at this particular time. We hope that a settlement to this dispute can be found as quickly as possible.
“We expect that flights will operate as normal and remain in regular contact with Border Force about their mitigation plans. Additional airport staff will also be made available to help with passenger welfare on strike days.”
The sentiment is echoed by Glasgow Airport, with a spokesperson adding: “At this stage there is no indication the planned industrial action will have any significant impact on our operations, and we are continuing to liaise with Border Force to understand what their contingency plans are.
“We would also like to reassure our passengers arriving back to the UK that Glasgow Airport will also bring in additional staff on the proposed strike days to ensure disruption – if any – is kept to an absolute minimum.”
A statement issued by Manchester Airport highlights that some flights may be affected, if the strikes go ahead.
“It is hugely regrettable that the PCS Union has chosen to disrupt one of the most important times of the year for international travel by calling a strike by Border Force officers at several UK ports, including Manchester Airport, for 23-26 December and 28-31 December. We urge union and Government representatives to work together to find a solution to avert this strike action.
“Over the next few days, we are expecting UK Border Force to give clear guidance to affected airports on the level of resources they can provide on each of the strike days. We will then work with our airlines to agree the flying schedule that we can operate safely.
“Unfortunately, we expect it will be necessary for airlines to cancel some services on the days impacted by strike action to ensure the number of arriving passengers aligns with lower UK Border Force resources.
“We will be working with our airlines to provide passengers with as much advance notice of cancelled services as possible, so that people have the chance to rebook their travel around the strike days.
“Arriving passengers should also be prepared for much longer immigration queues on strike days, owing to reduced Border Force staffing levels.
‘Those due to travel during the affected period should look out for communications from their airlines over the coming days.”
A total of 100,000 PCS members in 214 government departments and other public bodies voted to take the strike action over a 10% pay rise, pensions justice, job security and no cuts to redundancy terms.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka has said that “the government can stop these strikes tomorrow if it puts money on the table”.
The Home Office has advised that eGates will still be open and operational throughout the strikes.