Warning Christmas period flights could be cancelled over Border Force strikes

The Border Force strikes could lead to flights being cancelled over the Christmas period, ITV News Consumer Editor Chris Choi reports

Airports are warning they expect some flights over the festive period could be cancelled after Border Force staff announced they would strike during the days around Christmas.

The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union announced its members working at Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham and Cardiff airports will strike for eight days from 23 December to New Year’s Eve.

The union has already announced strikes at the Department for Work and Pensions, the Highways Agency and among driving examiners.

The announcement will likely cause chaos for anyone hoping to spend Christmas with family who live abroad potentially for the first time since before the pandemic.

Manchester airport said: "Unfortunately, we expect it will be necessary for airlines to cancel some services on the days impacted by strike action to ensure the number of arriving passengers aligns with lower UK Border Force resources. 

Chloe Cumberland was due to fly home from Germany for Christmas - but that is now in doubt

"We will be working with our airlines to provide passengers with as much advance notice of cancelled services as possible, so that people have the chance to rebook their travel around the strike days."

The airport also said passengers should also be prepared for much longer immigration queues on strike days.

Teaching assistant Chloe Cumberland was due to fly home to the UK from Germany on Christmas eve before the strikes were announced.

She it would be "near impossible" to change her flight plans on December 24.

She told ITV News: "I don't think the government or the people striking know the impact its going to have."

Around 1,000 Border Force workers will strike on December 23, 24, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30 and 31.

Border Force staff at airports are employed by the Home Office and are the people who manage immigration for people arriving in the country, mostly by checking passengers' passports.

Minister for Immigration Robert Jenrick called the strike "unjustifiable" and said it would "ruin the plans of thousands of families and businesses across the country."

He said in a statement: "While we are working closely with all UK ports and airports and have robust plans in place to minimise any delays if strike action goes ahead, passengers should be prepared for their plans to be severely disrupted.

"Those intending to travel over strike days should keep up-to-date with the latest advice from operators before making journeys this Christmas."

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said the staff work at passport control so the strike will have a "significant impact."

He warned the Government against bringing in the military to cover for the strikes, saying there was not enough time to train them properly.

Mr Serwotka has met Government ministers but he said they were refusing to increase a 2% pay rise.

"They keep saying their door is open, but it is a very strange door because there’s nothing behind it."

The union warned the industrial action could escalate in the new year if the deadlock isn't broken.

The timeline for the strikes will cause havoc over Christmas

Mr Serwotka also said his union may start coordinating strikes with other unions.

It is understood military personnel, civil servants and volunteers are currently being trained to support airports through the strikes.

A Heathrow spokesperson said: "Our priority is to ensure passengers get through the border safely and as quickly as possible.

"We are working closely with airlines and Border Force on mitigation plans for potential strike action by Border Force officers and these plans will now be implemented for the notified days.

"The Home Office advises that immigration and customs checks may take longer during peak times on strike days, and Heathrow will support Border Force to minimise these impacts with the aim of processing passengers through the border as efficiently as possible.

The strike could cause chaos for travellers over Christmas. Credit: PA

"Passengers are advised to check their flight status with their airline before travelling. We encourage all parties to resolve this dispute quickly."

The airport pointed out that the workers involved in the strikes are employed by the Home Office, not Heathrow.

A Gatwick Airport spokesperson said: "We are disappointed that Border Force staff have decided to take strike action at this particular time.  We hope that a settlement to this dispute can be found as quickly as possible.

"We expect that flights will operate as normal and remain in regular contact with Border Force about their mitigation plans. Additional airport staff will also be made available to help with passenger welfare on strike days."

Cardiff Airport said they expected to remain open and operational during the strike.

They said in a statement: "The teams working at Cardiff Airport have worked really hard this year to build on our revival following from the impacts of lockdowns on international travel over the last 2 years, in order to provide a high level of service to our customers.

"It is disappointing that the Border Force staff are planning to take industrial action over the Christmas travel period and we urge all UK Government departments involved in the negotiations to urgently find a resolution before these dates."

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