A quick priority item for your attention today.
It now seems inevitable and unstoppable that the UK Border Agency inspectors – the people who stamp your passport as you enter Britain through Heathrow or another airport – will be joining much of the rest of the country’s civil service and go on strike for 24 hours on Wednesday.
A recent development is news of a planned deployment of police officers to man at least some of the Immigration ‘toll booths’ at major ports of entry, and senior managers who are not striking will also be taking front level positions to help out.
What will this mean to you if you’re hoping to fly in or out of Britain on Wednesday or Thursday (or maybe even Friday) this week?
Opinions are somewhat divided on that. Obviously, for the glass half full crowd, the good news is that at least some people will be processed through the Immigration lines at UK airports.
But the worst case scenario for the glass half empty folks are official projections suggesting 12 hour delays at Heathrow, with so many planes backed up that the entire airport will be full with nowhere remaining for planes to park, causing some flights to be diverted not just to other British airports but to other cities in Europe instead. Gatwick may also suffer severe problems, with other UK airports not so severely affected.
Airlines have been requested to fly with no more than 50% loads to Heathrow as a way of partially reducing the stresses. That may be good if you are part of the 50% of passengers who still get to fly (assuming you don’t get stuck on the ground for many hours upon arrival), but not so good if you’re part of the unfortunate other 50%. A very few airlines have already cut a very few flights as well.
While you don’t need to see an Immigration person on departure, the problem for people departing the UK is that if the incoming planes can’t land or, if they can land, can’t get to a gate and are held at off-terminal locations for hours, your outbound flight taking you away from Britain to somewhere else will almost certainly be delayed or cancelled too.
As we know from past problems at Heathrow (eg the snow problem last December), any disruption there can take a couple of days to untangle. So it seems reasonable to project major problems with flights on Wednesday, residual appreciable problems on Thursday, and some remaining mess on Friday, for both inbound and outbound flights.
Fortunately most airlines are allowing passengers to change their flights without penalty, and if you are booked to travel in or out of Britain on Wednesday or Thursday, you might want to consider changing your travel plans.