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Heathrow security strike: Will my flight be cancelled in latest airport walkouts?

As the Easter holidays get under way, so does a strike by security staff at the main base for British Airways, London Heathrow Terminal 5.

The airline has been told to ground 32 of its planned daily departures. BA has also taken outbound flights off sale, even on services where some seats are empty.

Around 1,400 members of the Unite union working in security at Heathrow airport have walked out from Friday 31 March until Easter Sunday, 9 April. The majority work at security checkpoints at Terminal 5, with others staffing control posts across the airport where vehicles go “airside”.

After last-ditch talks on 30 March failed, Unite’s regional co-ordinating officer, Wayne King, said: “Heathrow airport has thrown away the opportunity to avoid strikes.

“The strike action will undoubtedly result in severe delays and disruption to passengers across the airport but this dispute is a direct result of Heathrow airport’s stubborn refusal to pay its workers fairly.”

But a Heathrow spokesperson said: “We will not let these unnecessary strikes impact the hard-earned holidays of our passengers.

“Our contingency plans will keep the airport operating as normal throughout. We are deploying 1,000 additional colleagues and the entire management team who will be in the terminals providing assistance to passengers over the busy Easter getaway.”

“Colleagues could have an above-inflation 10 per cent pay increase back-dated to 1 January and a lump sum payment of £1,150, but instead they’re left empty-handed by Unite’s actions.“

Here are the key questions and answers.

What effect is the strike having?

Friday 31 March, Saturday 1 April and Sunday 2 April are likely to be the days of maximum pressure at Britain’s busiest airport, with many schools breaking up ahead of Easter.

Taking so many professional, trained staff out of the system at a time of peak demand is bound to have an effect. Heathrow’s management says: “Our contingency plans will keep the airport operating as normal throughout.” But the airport adds: “As at any busy time, it may take a little longer than usual to get through security, but this will be well managed and kept flowing.”

Terminal 5 is the only terminal affected – which means passengers on all other airlines should not face problems. Neither should British Airways passengers flying on the airline’s relatively few flights from Heathrow Terminal 3.

But some BA flights have been cancelled?

Yes, in a bid to reduce the number of passengers passing through security, and therefore cut the scope for congestion, British Airways has been ordered to cancel 5 per cent of flights that would normally operate at Terminal 5 during the industrial action.

That amounts to 32 departures (16 round trips) on each day, affecting around 5,000 passengers per day.

On Friday 31 March, though, BA has cancelled an additional 40 flights (20 round trips), including some short-notice transatlantic cancellations.

Which destinations are affected, and what are passengers’ rights?

Among domestic destinations, Aberdeen, Belfast City, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester and Newcastle are seeing cancellations on British Airways.

In Europe, multiple services to Amsterdam, Nice, Stockholm and Zurich are axed, along with departures to a wide range of other destinations including Athens, Vienna and Palma de Mallorca.

One transatlantic links on Friday 31 March to each of Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York JFK, Seattle and Washington DC has been grounded.

Passengers are entitled to be flown to their destination on the same day as originally booked, including on another airline if BA has no availability.

They cannot claim compensation under European air passengers’ rights rules because the cancellations are beyond the airline’s control.

What other steps are being taken?

British Airways has taken its outbound flights from Heathrow off sale for the duration of the action. Passengers seeking flights at ba.com on 31 March to destinations that are normally served from Terminal 5 – including New York, Singapore and Dubai – are seeing no availability.

New York passengers are being offered availability on American Airlines, BA’s partner, flying from Heathrow Terminal 3. To Dubai and Singapore, prospective travellers are being told to use Qatar Airways via Doha.

Heathrow airport, which employs the security staff, has cancelled all leave for managers this coming weekend – they will all be on duty helping travellers. A spokesman said: “We are deploying 1,000 additional colleagues and the entire management team, who will be in the terminals providing assistance to passengers over the busy Easter getaway.”

Are passengers being given specific advice?

Yes. Unless you have been told your flight is cancelled, which is affecting a small number of BA departures, you can assume it will be operating normally. Heathrow airport says you should arrive no earlier than two hours before short-haul flights and three hours before long-haul flights.

There are concerns about passengers being unfamiliar with the security rules – and that the number of “secondary searches” could be high. Heathrow has implored passengers to be “ready for security with their compliant liquids and electronics out of their hand luggage”.

In a bid to reduce the number of bags going through security, British Airways says passengers who are booked with cabin baggage only can check in a case without paying extra.

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