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Airlines prepare for ‘gridlock’ at UK airports during this week’s public sector strikes | Immigration Matters

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International airlines are taking steps to avoid “gridlock” at London’s Heathrow Airport on Nov. 30, rebooking passengers and considering cancellations because of a planned strike by U.K. immigration staff, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Airport operator BAA on Friday took the unusual step of requesting carriers at the world’s busiest international airport to fly with half-full planes and warned of delays of up to 12 hours in processing incoming passengers.

Airlines are continuing to meet with BAA officials ahead of the planned strike by U.K. public-sector workers that includes border-control officers at Heathrow and other airports.

Most are offering fee-free flight changes, with some considering cancellations to avoid the risk of long delays or being forced to divert services to other airports.

The voluntary request by BAA for carriers to consider flying with emptier aircraft was widely seen by airlines as impractical because of the financial impact. BAA wasn’t immediately available to comment on ongoing talks with airlines.

Dubai-based Emirates Airline, which flies giant Airbus A380s into Heathrow and Manchester airports, said flights to the U.K. may be disrupted or cancelled on Wednesday, and encouraged passengers to travel on other days.

British Airways, the largest operator at Heathrow, said it planned a normal schedule on Nov. 30, though it warned of long delays there and at London’s Gatwick and City airports.

Other airlines are adopting a wait-and-see approach as talks continued to avert the industrial action.

BAA Chief Operating Officer, Normand Boivin last week called on carriers to reduce their passenger load factors on international flights arriving at Heathrow on Nov. 30 to 50% of normal levels.

He said this would reduce the risk of inbound flights being diverted and outbound flights being cancelled, warning that “gridlock” could quickly develop as passengers would have to remain on planes to prevent immigration facilities overcrowding.

“Modelling of the impacts of strike action on passenger flows at Heathrow shows that there are likely to be very long delays of up to 12 hours to arriving passengers,” he said in a letter posted on the BAA website.

“The delays at immigration are likely to be so long that passengers could not be safely accommodated within the terminals and would need to be held on arriving aircraft,” the letter said.

Unions representing more than two million teachers, passport-control officers and other public workers are planning a one-day strike Wednesday to protest against the government’s proposed changes to their pensions.

Private businesses are set to lose millions as the indirect effect of the public sector strike forces them to close for the day. Even if their staff do not join the strike action, they may find it difficult to commute to work or will have to stay at home to look after children as the local schools close for the day.

UKBA Advice for customers:

The 4 Home Office unions are participating in a strike which will affect border control from the beginning of the evening of Tuesday 29 November until 23:59 on Wednesday 30 November. Starting times will vary as each port has different shift patterns.

We will aim to keep disruption at a minimum but our priority remains the security of the border and we could see longer waiting times at some ports and airports. We have put contingency plans in place and will work hard to keep delays to a minimum.

You may wish to check with your carrier if you are travelling on 30 November.

Passengers arriving in the UK can assist us by:

  • having travel documents, including passports, available and taken out of any wallets;
  • using automatic e-Passport gates (where available);
  • having landing cards fully completed and ready; and
  • staying in family groups.

Services in the UK, including enforcement and public enquiry offices, will be as close to business-as-usual service as possible.

We would like to thank passengers for their patience as we work to maintain the security of the UK’s border.

We will post additional information on this website as it becomes available. Ends.

See also:

UK Immigration Officers to go ahead with strike action next week

UK net migration at record high

Employment restrictions for Bulgarians and Romanians extended until end of 2013

EU and non-EU workers take more UK jobs as number of Britons in work plunges

Raising the amount husbands must earn to £26,000 would disqualify two thirds of immigrant brides, according to government watchdog MAC

UK Border Agency announce further changes to the student visa system

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