Potential Strike at Heathrow Could Disrupt Flights Over Bank Holiday Weekend

By Ivan PetrenkoApr 23, 2024 06:30 AMNews
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People walking on an airport
People walking on an airport. Source: unsplash

A potential strike at London Heathrow Airport, announced by Unite, the United Kingdom-based workers union, threatens to significantly disrupt travel during an upcoming bank holiday weekend. The strike, involving refueling staff employed by AFS, is scheduled to last 72 hours beginning May 4, which could lead to numerous flights being delayed or canceled due to fuel shortages.

AFS, a joint venture that includes several prominent oil and gas companies such as Air BP, Total, Q8 Air, and Valero, has come under fire from Unite for what the union describes as severe cuts to the terms and conditions of staff hired since January 2024. These cuts reportedly affect pension and sickness benefits, prompting about 50 refueling employees to plan industrial action.

The strike's timing coincides with one of the busiest travel weekends in the UK, with May 6 being a public holiday. This period typically sees increased travel as British families take advantage of the long weekend. According to aviation analytics from Cirium, Heathrow has 2,671 outbound flights scheduled from May 3 to May 6, which could impact nearly 584,000 passengers due to the strike.

Unite has criticized AFS for creating a two-tier workforce, accusing the company of targeting its newest and most vulnerable employees with these cuts. Sharon Graham, General Secretary of Unite, emphasized the union’s stance against what she termed as "bully-boy tactics," committing to fight for equitable treatment in terms of pensions and sick pay for all staff.

Kevin Hall, a regional officer at Unite, expressed concerns that accepting these conditions would set a precedent for future employment practices at AFS, potentially degrading worker rights further. He warned that the outcome of this dispute could set a standard for industry-wide employment terms going forward.

The airport has acknowledged the looming strike and stated that it is working with AFS on robust contingency plans to manage the potential fuel supply issues. However, the risk of disruption remains high, as the strike would affect the refueling of aircraft from major international carriers such as Virgin Atlantic, Emirates, and Singapore Airlines, among others.

As discussions continue, both travelers and airlines are bracing for what could be a major disruption, affecting thousands of passengers and potentially straining logistical operations across one of Europe's busiest airports.

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