Pensions strike could bring gridlock to Heathrow, airlines told

Air passengers were yesterday warned of major delays during next week’s public sector pensions strike as the scale of the expected disruption became clearer.

Passengers were told they could face “significant disruption” at border zones as immigration and passport staff join up to two million workers for a 24-hour walkout on Wednesday.

Delays at Heathrow could last as long as 12 hours and airlines were warned of “mass cancellations” of departing aircraft.

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Delays at immigration are likely to be so long that passengers may have to be held on arriving aircraft, airport operator BAA told airlines.

“This in turn would quickly create gridlock at the airport with no available aircraft parking stands, mass cancellations of departing aircraft and diversions outside the UK for arriving aircraft,” BAA added.

The warning came in a letter to all airlines which fly into Heathrow from BAA’s Heathrow chief operating officer Normand Boivin.

He said BAA had “reluctantly concluded” that the UK Border Agency would be unable to provide a contingency plan to support normal operations.

A Border Agency spokesman said: “Securing the border is our priority and over the last weeks and months we have considered all options to ensure we are prepared for union action.

“We always aim to minimise any disruption caused by the decision of unions to strike, but travellers could see longer waiting times at some ports and airports.”

Unions have criticised the agency after it emerged that volunteers are being sought from across the civil service to cover for striking immigration staff.

Mr Boivin said that following consultation with major carriers, it had agreed “a voluntary protocol” for all airlines to reduce inbound passenger volumes on the day of the strike.

He went on: “We will plan for a normal flight schedule, but we are requesting all carriers to reduce load factors on each international flight arriving into Heathrow on November 30 to 50 per cent of normal levels.

“By following this protocol, airlines will reduce the risk of being diverted to an airport outside the UK and reduce the risk of having an outbound flight cancelled.”

Mr Boivin told the airlines that Heathrow would do all it could and “may also be obliged to advise arriving passengers... that they should avoid arriving into the UK on November 30 unless absolutely necessary”.

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic Airways both announced that the normal charges for rebooking flights would not apply for those wishing not to travel on November 30.

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