We May Be Heading For A Summer Of Chaos At London Heathrow

an aerial view of an airport

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While most of us have been focusing on the potential British Airways pilots’ strike that’s looming over a lot of people’s travels, two other issues have been bubbling under the surface which, before Friday, hadn’t really received much publicity…and then they exploded on to the scene.

Heathrow Workers To Strike

Unbeknownst to me, over 4,000 workers employed by London’s Heathrow airport were recently balloted on strike action and the result of the ballot (which was announced on Friday) was that workers will be walking out on 6 separate days in the coming weeks.

a group of airplanes at an airport

Workers covering areas such as security, customer service, and engineering will be walking out on the following dates:

  • Friday 26 July
  • Saturday 27 July
  • Monday 5 August
  • Tuesday 6 August
  • Friday 23 August
  • Saturday 24 August

These dates haven’t been chosen at random.

The 26th and 27th of July fall on the last weekend in July (in 2018, the last weekend in July was Heathrow’s busiest weekend of the year) and the 23rd and 24th of August fall on the penultimate weekend in August (a holiday weekend in the UK).

There’s no doubt that these dates have been chosen to cause as much disruption as possible.

UNITE, the union representing the airport workers (also the union representing a significant percentage of British Airways ground and cabin crews) says that Heathrow’s latest pay offer amounts to £3.75/$4.73 a day extra for its lowest-paid workers while the airport’s last set of accounts show Heathrow’s CEO getting a £2.1m pay increase. It also points out that the dispute is also partly due to the fact that staff are often paid differing sums for doing precisely the same job.

In response Heathrow has said the following:

“We have proposed a progressive pay package giving at least a 4.6% pay rise to over 70% of our frontline colleagues. The total package offered is above RPI and is specifically designed to boost the wages of lower paid colleagues”

 Regardless of who is right or wrong here, the one inescapable fact is that a Heathrow workers’ strike isn’t going to make an already busy travel season run any smoother.

British Airways Mixed Fleet Crew May Strike

BA’s groundcrews, cabin crews, and pilots have all been negotiating as one with BA management and, although I’ve only seen the ongoing pilots’ ballot mentioned in the press, it would appear as if BA’s Mixed Fleet cabin crews have been voting on the possibility of industrial action as well:

a screenshot of a social media post

Based on the tweet above it looks like voting is closing at exactly the same time as this blog post is going live and, being realistic, I’d be shocked if the vote wasn’t in favor of industrial action.

Also, assuming a strike is called, I’d be surprised if the Mixed Fleet crews didn’t coordinate at least some of their strike dates with those of the Heathrow workers and/or BA’s pilots (assuming they too vote for strike action).

With the law requiring Mixed Fleet crews to give a minimum of 2 weeks’ notice of any industrial action the earliest a strike may take place is around 29/30 July.

Bottom Line

I’m not about to speculate on the right and wrongs here as I have no idea what Heathrow’s workers are currently paid and I’ve already indicated my support for BA’s cabin crews on multiple occasions…so I’m just going to focus on what this all means.

If 4,000 Heathrow workers walk out it’s definitely going to cause issues for the airport, but I’ve no doubt that contingencies are already in place for just such a scenario – this is unlikely to close the airport or bring flights to a standstill, but it will probably slow things down quite a bit.

If BA Mixed Fleet crews end up going on strike the disruptions will be significant but, as in the past, British Airways will probably be able to continue to operate the majority of its flights…possibly with the help of Qatar Airways aircraft and crews just as happened in 2017.

a plane on the runway
A Qatar Airways A320 at Heathrow in July 2017

If BA Mixed Fleet crews choose to walk out on one or more of the days on which the Heathrow workers are striking there will be significant disruption on those days. A lot of flights will still probably operate but I’d expect there to be numerous flight cancellations and long delays.

The nightmare scenario for travelers is one in which BA’s pilots vote for industrial action as, regardless of what the cabin crews and Heathrow workers are doing, this will almost certainly have the effect of grounding most (if not all) of the British Airways fleet.

Lastly, it’s important to note that just because a workforce votes for industrial action it doesn’t mean that industrial action is inevitable – negotiations will still be continuing in the background so there would still be a possibility that any planned action(s) would be called off if an agreement is reached.

Let’s hope that’s what eventually happens or a lot of us could be in for some truly horrendous travel days.


  1. Small typo:
    “The 26th and 27th of August fall on the last weekend in July”, you probably meant July, not August.

  2. This is what differentiates bloggers who just throw stuff up from journalists who present carefully researched and copy-edited stories:

    „The 26th and 27th of August fall on the last weekend in July“

    Who knew?

    • Actually the biggest difference is that journalists don’t usually have to put up with obnoxious and needlessly snarky comments at the end of what they write.

      • The curse of comments in blogs. But there are letters to the editor. And my comment still stands. Perhaps not in your case but some bloggers like to make believe they are journalists and it is laughable.

        That’s not to say bloggers don’t serve an important function in the distribution of news however. That they do. It’s just that one cannot place the same reliance on a blog as one can on a reputable publication. And yes exceptions exist all around.

  3. Since corporate greed doesn’t run unbridled in the UK nearly as much as here in the US, perhaps a law stating that executive compensation must be capped at, say 20 times average total employee compensation. If an executive gets delayed benefits, the employees receive proportionally equal benefits. That would incentivize raising pay and benefits for normal people.

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