Border Force strike begins sparking Christmas getaway travel chaos warning

As Border Force staff commence strike action across the country, Martin Stew has the latest on whether or not it has caused major delays

Hundreds of thousands of travellers have been warned to expect disruption as they begin their Christmas period journeys, as a Border Force strike begins.

Pre-Christmas travel is set to be disrupted by a fresh series of strikes, affecting flights and rail journeys in the days before festive celebrations begin.

Friday is also predicted to be the busiest day of the festive period on Britain's roads, with the AA estimating there will 16.9 million journeys.

More than 250,000 passengers arriving at UK airports on Friday have been warned to expect delays due to strikes by around 1,000 Border Force staff who are members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union.

The walkout will affect travellers at Heathrow, Birmingham, Cardiff, Gatwick, Glasgow and Manchester airports, and the port of Newhaven in East Sussex.

Early reports from Heathrow and Gatwick said operations were running smoothly, but things could change as the day progresses.

Flight provider Virgin Atlantic has assured customers that if they are scheduled to arrive at either Heathrow or Manchester Airport on a strike day, they will be able to amend their booking without charge provided it is before January 14.

British Airways have confirmed they they will also be providing a similar service to customers.

A British Airways spokesman said: "In view of the Border Force strikes planned over the Christmas period, we're continuing to work closely with the UK Government, Border Force and airport authorities to ensure that we play our part in ensuring our customers are able to travel as planned at this important time of year.

"We're offering anyone booked to travel on an international flight into London Heathrow or Gatwick Airport on strike dates the option to change their flight dates."

Christmas eve is expected to be a difficult day for travellers as well, with the AA predicting 16.6 million journeys and another rail strike.

Rishi Sunak has said he is “sad and disappointed” at the disruption to travellers trying to get away at Christmas due to strike action by public sector workers.

National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) railway workers will stage another strike from 6pm on Christmas Eve, but Network Rail have said this means trains will be forced to stop around 3pm.

Examples of last train times include 10.45am for Leeds to London, 11am for London to Edinburgh and 12.48pm for London to Manchester.

RMT London bus workers will also walk out on Christmas Eve, as people up and down the country attempt to journey to join family for the festive period.

All of the industrial action comes during the busiest Christmas since 2019, as the first festive period without Covid travel restrictions since the start of the pandemic.

National Highways, and Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) workers also took industrial action on Friday.

And Royal Mail workers also resumed their strike, in a blow to final Christmas post deliveries.

Speaking during a visit to a homeless shelter in London, the prime minister insisted the Government had acted “fairly and reasonably” on public sector pay.

"I am really sad and I am disappointed about the disruption that is being caused to so so many people’s lives, particularly at Christmas time,” he said.

The industrial action also follows two days of strikes by NHS staff, as thousands of nurses walked out on Tuesday, and ambulance workers joined picket lines on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, National Highways workers in London and the South East, also represented by the PCS, will continue their four-day walkout which started on Thursday.

The workers, who plan, design, build, operate and maintain the roads, are following action by colleagues in Yorkshire & Humber, north-west and north-east England.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said they plan to “escalate” action ahead of Christmas and it is “likely to inconvenience travellers”.

Postmen and women represented by the Communication Workers Union (CWU) are also due to walk out for their fifth day of December action, in a move which Royal Mail criticised as “a cynical attempt to hold Christmas to ransom”.

The company said it will be doing all it can to deliver Christmas mail, revealing that the industrial action has cost it £100 million.

Post-Christmas, strike dates have been set until January 26, with industrial action taking place daily until January 13 as the schedule stands.

Ambulance workers represented by Unison became the latest to announce fresh strike action in England, with members to walk out on January 11 and 23.

The strike will affect London, Yorkshire, the North West, North East and South West and will involve all ambulance employees, not just the 999 response crews as was the case on Wednesday.

Unison said the new strikes were a result of the Government’s “repeated refusal” to negotiate improvements to NHS pay this year.

NHS trust leaders have warned that Christmas could be one of the darkest to date for the health service, as strikes threaten to aggravate an “already deeply challenging situation”.

Figures for last week show that one in four ambulance patients in England waited more than an hour to be handed to A&E teams at hospitals.

New data also suggests the number of patients in hospital with flu in England has “skyrocketed” and Strep A is driving “near record” demand for NHS 111 services.

The strike disruption is expected to last well into the new year, with nurses announcing two more strike days for January on Friday.

Workers on London’s Elizabeth Line also said they would strike on January 12 on Friday.

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