Passengers have been warned about significant delays on Wednesday 30th as immigration and passport staff join a 24-hour strike by up to two million public-sector workers over pension reforms.
Heathrow Airport could be facing gridlock with people forced to wait for up to 12 hours on planes.
Glasgow and Edinburgh airports also predicted problems due to the industrial action, with long-haul flights expected to face the worst delays. Delays may build up during the day for travellers to Edinburgh
The UK Border Agency (UKBA) declined to speculate on the number of staff expected to turn up, but said the agency was doing all it could to minimise disruption, including asking other civil servants across Government departments to undertake training to operate border controls. Clearly this means a lower standard of service with inexperienced staff unlikely to be able to cope with a high volume of passengers. The strike is likely to enable visitors without proper documentation and visas to enter the country.
Airport sources said the disruption at Scottish airports was expected to be less severe because of the lower volume of long-haul flights. Edinburgh travel resources are expected to be stretched to the limit as a backlog inevitable builds up during the day.
British Airways and Virgin Atlantic Airways said usual rebooking charges would not apply to those who cancelled travel on November 30. A spokeswoman for easyJet also warned of delays, but said it was planning to run a full schedule on Wednesday and had reluctantly concluded the UK Border Agency would be unable to provide a contingency plan to support normal operations.
Delays at immigration would mean passengers would have to be held on arriving aircraft. “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.
A spokesman for Glasgow Airport said: “We are currently liaising with UKBA to ascertain what impact the planned strike action for November 30 may have on Glasgow Airport.
“Current indications suggest international arriving passengers can expect delays at passport control. However, this is a moving situation and we will continue to work closely with UKBA and our airline partners to ensure any disruption is kept to a minimum and appropriate contingency plans are in place.”
A spokeswoman for Edinburgh Airport said it was also waiting for updates from UKBA, which said in response: “We have full contingency plans in place – including asking civil servants across Government to seek the proper training to allow them to operate border controls effectively. We will aim to keep disruption at a minimum, but our priority remains the security of the border and inevitably there will be some queues for all travellers during the strike.”
Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude said disruption at border controls was unavoidable, adding: “The responsibility for disruption caused to the public and the economic damage that follows from that and the jobs that will be lost because of this strike lies with the union leaders who balloted while discussions were still going on and those union leaders who, on the basis of very low turnouts in those ballots, called strikes.”
Unions have criticised the agency after it emerged volunteers are being sought from across the Civil Service to cover for striking immigration staff. Many people are questioning whether the normal immigration controls will break down , potentially allowing visitors into the UK who would normally be turned away on security grounds. The strike might create a huge opportunity for terrorists to enter the country undetected.
Gatwick Airport’s chief operating officer Scott Stanley warned the action was likely to affect arriving flights across the UK, adding: “We would warn passengers to be prepared for the potential for significant disruption at the border zones … airport staff cannot man desks at the border zone, but we will provide all necessary assistance to the Border Agency.”