Heathrow Airport reported zero wait times for arriving passengers to get through immigration during the peak morning rush on Christmas Eve despite a walkout by nearly a thousand Border Force officers in a dispute over pay, pensions and job security.
It had been feared that queues would quickly build up in Heathrow’s immigration halls with wait times of at least two hours predicted. Worst-case scenario planning would have seen the airport forced to close to new arrivals to prevent dangerous overcrowding.
In reality, in an internal communication, Heathrow said passengers were passing through the border with almost no wait at all during the morning rush on December 24. At 10 am, there was a short wait of just one minute for passengers who didn’t have access to the automated immigration e-gates at Terminal 3.
A little earlier in the day, at Terminal 5, some passengers had to wait for up to eight minutes to cross the border, although the PCS union which represents striking Border Force workers said they expected queues to get worse as the day wore on.
Border Force officers went on strike action yesterday and will continue their walkout every day to the New Year with the exception of December 27. Disruption is expected to get worse from December 28 when lots of families are due to arrive back in the UK from Christmas trips abroad.
Heathrow Airport is encouraging passengers to use immigration e-gates to take the pressure off staffed immigration desks but families with children under 12 are ineligible to use the e-gates.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said his members had been offered a 2 per cent pay rise while inflation was running at 11 per cent.
“The government have known for months they have to do something about this crisis but have refused to negotiate, refused to put a penny on the table and have given us no option than to take industrial action,” Serwotka commented on Friday.
PCS members have been replaced at the border by civil service volunteers, as well as scores of soldiers who have received basic training in processing passengers. Serwotka says he fears the border could be compromised due to the lack of training and experience, but the Home Office has denied these allegations.
If queues were to start building in immigration halls, passengers could also be held on aeroplanes to prevent overcrowding. Both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have confirmed that they are no longer selling tickets for arriving flights at Heathrow during the strike period in order to reduce the pressure at the border.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.