British Airways is to cancel more than 300 flights to and from Heathrow over the Easter holiday period due to strikes by airport security staff.
The airline is axing about 5% of its schedule, with 16 return short-haul flights cancelled daily. It said the majority of affected customers would be booked on to alternative flights within 24 hours, or could be fully refunded.
Members of the Unite union voted to strike in a pay dispute with Heathrow, which has offered a 10% rise after years of pay freezes during Covid.
The staff on strike work in the security lanes in Terminal 5, used exclusively by British Airways, and in campus security, checking all cargo entering the airport. The strikes will take place between Friday 31 March, and Easter Sunday, 9 April.
A BA spokesperson said: “Following Heathrow’s requirement for us to reduce the number of passengers travelling during the period of its employees’ proposed strike action, we’ve regrettably had to make a small number of adjustments to our schedule. Our teams are continuing to work closely with Heathrow to ensure that our customers’ journeys run smoothly.”
While BA is the airline most affected, others have been asked by Heathrow to limit ticket sales to try to keep passenger numbers down, with long queues anticipated at one of the busiest times of the year. Contingency staff will run the security lanes, and volunteer staff will be deployed to keep passengers informed and minimise delays.
BA said customers could check in their hand luggage allowance free of charge to help cut security queues.
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.
“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.”
Heathrow advised passengers to check their flight status before travelling to the airport and be ready for security, and not to arrive prematurely. Early arrivals due to panic over airport queues compounded the chaos in terminals last year, originally caused by staff shortages.
Talks between the Unite union and Heathrow broke down on Thursday after 12 hours and it is understood there are no more talks planned to avert the strikes.
Unite’s general secretary, Sharon Graham, has accused Heathrow of paying airport workers “poverty wages while the chief executive and senior managers enjoy huge salaries”, and said members were striking “due to need not greed”.
Meanwhile, Ryanair has called on the European Union to step in to protect international flights over France during strikes there, after action by French air traffic controllers delayed 25% of the airline’s flights to countries around Europe at the weekend.