Heathrow and Gatwick passengers have delighted at the ‘brilliant’ British Army troops getting them through passport control in ‘record time’ as 1,000 Border Force staff begin the first of eight-day strikes during busiest Christmas in three years.
The military and civil servants have been called in to help at Heathrow, Birmingham, Cardiff, Gatwick, Glasgow and Manchester airports, and the port of Newhaven in East Sussex as 1,290 flights land today.
Passengers travelling through Heathrow airport this morning praised the army for stepping in to man passport control, with one adding: ‘Maybe this is the future’.
It comes as union chief Mark Serwotka of PCS today warned that Border Force action could last until May in a ‘huge escalation’, if an agreement is not made.
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Passengers queue in Heathrow Terminal 2 as travellers praise the army for stepping in
There was no queue in this scene from Gatwick Airport on Friday morning, as travellers praised the military for stepping in
Will my Christmas getaway be ruined?
When is the next rail strike?
Thousands of members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union at Network Rail will walk out from 6pm on Christmas Eve until 6am on December 27.
What is the advice to people wanting to catch a train on Christmas Eve?
Passengers are being urged only to travel on Christmas Eve “if absolutely necessary”.
How will services be affected by the strike?
Trains will stop running at around 3pm on Christmas Eve in most locations.
Examples of last train departure times include 10.45am from Leeds to London, 11am from London to Edinburgh and 12.48pm from London to Manchester.
How busy will the roads be?
The AA expects 16.9 million road journeys will be made across the UK on Friday, with a further 16.6 million on Christmas Eve.
Will the rail strikes make traffic jams worse?
Almost certainly. An RAC survey indicated that nearly half of people affected by rail strikes this month planned to drive themselves or get a lift from someone else.
Where will the most severe congestion be?
Drivers on the M25, the M60 near Manchester, the M6 in north-west England and the M40 in Oxfordshire are all likely to be stuck in long queues.
What about the Border Force strike?
Around 1,000 members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union who operate passport booths for Border Force will walk out at Heathrow, Birmingham, Cardiff, Gatwick, Glasgow and Manchester airports.
When is it happening?
Every day from Friday to the end of the year, except December 27.
– What preparations have been made?
Military personnel and volunteers from the Civil Service have been trained to check passports.
Why will this affect passengers?
The contingency workers are expected to do the role less efficiently than the striking Border Force officials, which could result in long queues.
How could the situation escalate?
If queues in immigration halls get too long then arriving passengers could be held on planes, preventing subsequent departures from taking off on time.
More than 250,000 passengers arriving at UK airports on Friday have been warned to expect delays due to strikes by around 1,000 Border Force staff who are members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union.
There will be 1,290 flights arriving into the airports, with 579 at Heathrow, 326 at Gatwick, 197 at Manchester and 98 at Birmingham aviation analytic firm Cirium reported.
Travellers were warned to expect delays amid fears that long queues at passport control could lead to people being held on planes, disrupting subsequent departures.
But there were no changes to flight schedules as of 7am.
The Home Office has said that it is trying to minimise delays for passengers during the strikes, with military personnel and volunteers from the civil service trained to check passports.
Travellers have praised the military this morning on social media.
One woman wrote on Twitter: ‘My young niece just landed at Heathrow from Perth on Qantas, sailed straight though the Terminal 4 Border.
‘Better than normal, great job military and managers. Maybe this is the future.’
Amy Kardel, who arrived at the airport from Berlin said: ‘It is raining hard at Heathrow. In line for bus to T3. No waiting at immigration when I just peeked left. Army personnel and purple polos outnumber passengers.’
Another said: ‘Thank goodness for the British army. Just passed through LHR terminal 4, much quicker than usual – all desks open staffed by army. Thank you for your service. Others should follow their example.’
Simon Melzner, who also arrived at the airport, said: ‘Thanks Heathrow for the great service. Worried traveling on 23rd would be a nightmare – but all smooth, less than 20min from bus station to departure gates.’
Another said: ‘Just been through T2 arrivals, greeted by loads of helpers and the really brilliant army stepping in. Made it through in record time with our young family. Well done. ‘
While another traveller added: ‘Heathrow – where I am now – seems to be working much better at passports and luggage – by far! – with the chirpy non-jobs***e military on the case.’
A Heathrow spokesperson said: ‘The morning arrivals peak has started well. Immigration halls are free flowing at Heathrow with Border Force and the military contingency providing a good service.’
Steve Dann, Border Force’s chief operating officer, said that the military and civil servants will ‘not be able to operate with the same efficiency as our permanent workforce’ and are ‘sacrificing their Christmases’ as he told people to expect delays, the BBC reported.
People flying out of the country’s busiest airport, Heathrow, are unlikely to be delayed, with the biggest impact being felt by those arriving into the country.
E-passport gates will be open, but these cannot be used by all.
The airport is due to see 579 flights arrive today, with more than 10,000 people arriving before 7am, the BBC reported.
Adam Jones, head of passenger operations a Gatwick told BBC Radio 4 that there is ‘plenty of space in the terminals to manage large queues’.
He added: ‘The worst case we see is potentially two hours, however we have extra staff in the airport to look after passengers’ welfare.
Queues at the border this morning as travellers arrive in the UK to a striking Border Force
Border Force strike at the Port of Newhaven, where more than 80 per cent of staff are striking as part of the PCS union
The scene at 4.54 am this morning as passengers queue for check-in at Manchester Airport’s Terminal 1
Members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) Union take part in a border force workers strike action near Heathrow Airport
Tourists queue at Manchester Airport as they prepare to leave the country for Christmas
Labour MP John McDonnell joins members of the PCS Union as they take part in a border force workers strike action, near Heathrow
In Manchester Airport’s Terminal 3 large queues were forming on Friday morning
Passengers queued at the check-in desk at Manchester Airport on Friday morning
Travellers have praised the military at Heathrow Airport this morning on social media
‘We do have the ability to control the trafficking to the airport if the situation requires it, but at the moment we don’t expect to use that.’
This comes during the busiest Christmas for airports since 2019, as the first festive period without coronavirus travel restrictions since the start of the pandemic.
John Strickland, independent aviation consultant told Radio 4 that hundreds of thousands of pounds are dependent on what happens at the airports.
‘Each airport that’s affected by the strike action will be affected in different ways,’ he said.
‘Gatwick is predominantly an airport serving short-haul flights, more European flights, not so many long-haul and larger, wide-bodied aircraft.
‘If we contrast that with Heathrow, which in the next few hours is going to see the onslaught of long-haul, large aircraft arriving, that’s a different combination of traffic.
‘Also, the use of e-gates, which is common at UK airports including Heathrow and Gatwick, should ease the strain, but in Gatwick there’s probably going to be a higher ratio of people eligible to use them with more Brits, more Europeans.
Members of the PCS Union take part in a border force workers strike action near Heathrow Airport
Holidaymakers at Manchester Airport queue at check-in desks on Friday morning
‘Then there’s the case of Heathrow where there’s a bigger mix of nationalities therefore more pressure.’
He added: ‘Christmas is one of the bright spots in the winter for airlines where they should be able to make money.
‘Flights are not surprisingly full, but if passengers are having to be booked on other days and airlines have offered that opportunity or if on the day they’re disrupted, then airlines have to incur significant compensation costs.
‘Although this is an issue affecting flight arrivals, the concern would be if there are big queues, and certainly I’ve heard evidence from a couple of industry colleagues even arriving last night of queues of two-and-a-half hours or so, at Heathrow Terminal Three as an example, then that could lead to passengers being backed up right up through to the gate at which they arrive.
‘And if people in those queues can’t physically get of the aircraft, then aircraft may not be able to be prepared for the next flight, so we could potentially get delays or cancelations of outbound flights.’
Queues were seen at Manchester Airport on Friday morning, with some passengers sleeping on chairs or the floor during their wait.
Earlier this week, the airport said in a statement: ‘We do not anticipate any cancellations and passengers do not need to change their travel plans unless otherwise advised by their airline.’
Arriving passengers were being processed ‘as normal’ at Gatwick Airport despite the Border Force strike, an airport spokesman said.
He said: ‘Everything is going OK at the moment.
‘There’s plenty of staff. The e-gates are all operating. It’s going well. There’s no delays as far as we’re aware, and no queues at the moment.
‘I’m standing in arrivals and passengers are flowing through as normal.’
Millions will hit the road for a festive getaway today before rail and bus drivers walkout tomorrow, as Christmas travel chaos hits the country.
And thousands of National Highways, Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) and Royal Mail employees are also due to take industrial action today.
While these workers continue their strike into Saturday, staff represented by the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), Abellio London bus workers, and Environment Agency employees will also launch separate waves of action.
This follows two days of strikes by NHS staff, as thousands of nurses walked out on Tuesday, and ambulance workers joined picket lines on Wednesday.
A passenger sleeping at Manchester Airport’s Terminal 2 on Friday morning
Passengers queue for check-in at Manchester Airport’s Terminal 3 on Friday morning
A passenger sleeping at Manchester Airport’s Terminal 3 on Friday morning
Manchester Airport’s Terminal 1 was busy on Friday morning as the Christmas get away takes hold
A passenger sleeping at Manchester Airport’s Terminal 1 on Friday morning
Christmas getaway traffic anti clock-wise on the M25 in Dartford, Kent on Thursday as people head off on their Christmas holidays
Holiday-makers and commuters faced some late morning queues at Bristol airport during check-in and border control on Thursday
Travellers could face months of disruption unless the Government comes forward with an improved pay offer, the leader of striking Border Force staff has warned.
PCS union general secretary Mark Serwotka urged people affected by Border Force strikes to vent their anger at the Government, as the union asks for a 10 per cent pay rise.
‘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 struggling with the cost-of-living crisis. They are desperate,’ he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
He said that the average wage of workers is £23,000, and 40,000 PCS members are using food banks, with 45,000 claiming in-work benefits.
Mr Serwotka added: ‘We presented the Government with a dossier where their own staff spoke to the Government and told them that they were skipping meals, they didn’t put their lights on at home, they were terrified about what Christmas was bringing.
‘And the Government’s response to those staff, after months of us trying to persuade them to do otherwise, is a two per cent pay offer — that’s the lowest anywhere in the economy — tens of thousands of job cuts, slashing their redundancy terms by 33 per cent and also robbing them two per cent every month of a pensions contribution.
‘And when you’re faced with such existential threats to your job security, to your livelihood and are literally living in poverty and using a food bank, industrial action is a last resort.’
He predicted a ‘huge escalation’ in industrial action in January across the Civil Service unless ministers enter into negotiations.
‘We think that the action at the borders is going to be very effective. We hope that the Government will therefore do the right thing and get around the negotiating table and put some money upfront,’ he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
‘If not, we are raising money, we have a strike fund that means we can sustain this action. Our strike mandate lasts right up until May. We will be supporting this action up to May and we would re-ballot again if we have to.
‘It think in January what you will see is a huge escalation of this action in the Civil Service and across the rest of our economy unless the Government get around the negotiating table.’
Ex-chancellor Ken Clarke urged ministers to hold their nerve in pay rows, as the strikes continue.
Meanwhile, National Highways workers in London and the South East, also represented by the PCS, will continue their four-day walkout which started on Thursday.
The workers, who plan, design, build, operate and maintain the roads, are following action by colleagues in Yorkshire and Humber, north-west and north-east England.
Drivers are being warned to prepare for long queues as millions of people embark on journeys to spend Christmas with friends and family.
The AA said that Friday will be the busiest day on the roads this week, with an estimated 16.9 million journeys being made across the UK.
A further 16.6 million journeys are expected to be made on Christmas Eve.
Congestion could be increased due to a strike by thousands of members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) at Network Rail causing train services to finish at around 3pm on Saturday.
The RAC said roads will be busiest on Friday – the last working day before Christmas – between 10am and 7pm.
Transport analytics company Inrix expects journey times to be around 14 per cent longer compared with the same period last year.
The RAC singled out the M25 clockwise between Junction 7 and Junction 16 as an area to avoid on Friday afternoon – with data from Inrix suggesting average vehicle speeds for this stretch of road could be as low as 26mph.
Other roads likely to be hit by congestion include the M60 near Manchester, the M6 in north-west England and the M40 in Oxfordshire.
Large queues of Christmas travellers as they wait for their train at Waterloo Station in central London on Thursday
Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT), pictured here outside Euston Station on December 13, will go on strike from Christmas Eve
RAC spokesman Rod Dennis said: ‘We’re expecting to see lengthy delays on parts of the M25 today as Christmas getaway and end-of-the-week commuter traffic combine.
‘We advise drivers, if possible, to avoid these roads around this time or delay their trips until after 7pm this evening when traffic is predicted to be lighter.
‘A single vehicle breakdown also has the potential to add to the queues, so we encourage motorists to complete a few pre-drive checks before setting out – in particular ensuring oil and coolant levels are correct, and tyres have plenty of tread and are properly inflated.’
National Highways said almost 98 per cent of England’s motorways and major A-roads will be fully open until the end of January 2 due to it completing and lifting roadworks.
AA head of roads policy Jack Cousens said: ‘We are advising those heading out in their cars to be prepared for some congestion, especially on popular routes heading out of London.
‘The rail strikes have convinced more people to travel by car this year, and while hundreds of miles of roadworks have been removed to ease the pain, it might not be enough to keep the queues away.’
Inrix transportation analyst Bob Pishue said: ‘With pre-pandemic levels of travellers hitting the road this holiday, drivers must be prepared for delays – especially in and around major cities.’
There are fears that delays in checking the passports of arriving passengers could lead to long queues and even people being held on planes, disrupting subsequent departures (Pictured: Travellers at Bristol Airport hoping to get away on Thursday)
Postmen and women represented by the Communication Workers Union (CWU) are also due to walk out for their fifth day of December action, in a move which Royal Mail criticised as ‘a cynical attempt to hold Christmas to ransom’.
The company said it will be doing all it can to deliver Christmas mail, revealing that the industrial action has cost it £100 million.
RMT railway workers will stage another strike from 6pm on Christmas Eve, which could prevent people from making it home for Christmas.
Post-Christmas, strike dates have been set until January 26, with industrial action taking place daily until January 13 as the schedule stands.
Ambulance workers represented by Unison became the latest to announce fresh strike action in England, with members to walk out on January 11 and 23.
The strike will affect London, Yorkshire, the North West, North East and South West and will involve all ambulance employees, not just the 999 response crews as was the case on Wednesday.
Unison said the new strikes were a result of the Government’s ‘repeated refusal’ to negotiate improvements to NHS pay this year.
NHS trust leaders have warned that Christmas could be one of the darkest to date for the health service, as strikes threaten to aggravate an ‘already deeply challenging situation’.
Figures for last week show that one in four ambulance patients in England waited more than an hour to be handed to A&E teams at hospitals.
New data also suggests the number of patients in hospital with flu in England has ‘skyrocketed’ and Strep A is driving ‘near record’ demand for NHS 111 services.
The Government is ‘missing in action’ and refusing to negotiate with the civil servants’ union while thousands of its members, including security workers at GCHQ in Cheltenham, are visiting food banks, Mr Serwotka said on Friday.
The Public and Commercial Services Union’s general secretary told BBC Breakfast: ‘Even there, civil servants cannot make ends meet. We voted to go on strike because we have been given the lowest pay rise anywhere across the economy – two per cent. Inflation is at 11 per cent.
He said he showed a government minister examples of his members’ poverty but was told ‘not a single penny would be put on the table’ because the Government cannot afford it.
He added: ‘Nobody believes that. They’ve gone to such expense to bring the Army into our airports. Shouldn’t they do what everybody believes they should, which is get around the negotiating table and say to our NHS staff, our Border Force staff, our civil servants and everyone else, “We know there is a poverty crisis in this country. We are going to find some money to get us through this period”?
‘If they did that, there wouldn’t be any disruption anywhere to talk about.’