UK strikes: crowds & chaos expected this week at UK airports

By John Walton, November 28 2011
UK strikes: crowds & chaos expected this week at UK airports

Flying to London this week? Travellers arriving at London Heathrow and the UK's other international airports this Wednesday, 30 November, should be prepared for a long wait at the UK Border Agency passport control.

British border agency and customs staff -- and up to three million public sector workers in total -- will be on strike for the day over pensions and other issues.

Public servants from other areas are being drafted in to check passports, but the BBC reports that this will be limited to European passports and electronic gates.

Business travellers entering on Australian or other foreign passports will be stuck in the extra-interminable queues reminiscent (but potentially worse) than strikes in June this year.

How bad are the queues likely to be? Travel blog Jaunted has some shudder-worthy shots of June's queue -- seventeen barrier switchbacks deep.

How to avoid the worst queues

The longest lines will likely be found at Heathrow, the UK's biggest international airport.

If you're heading to the UK, smaller airports may offer less of a queue. While Qantas and its partner British Airways only serve Heathrow for flights from Australia, many European airlines have decent connections via their hubs to other UK cities.

So if you've still got time to change your plans, consider KLM via Amsterdam, Lufthansa via Munich or Frankfurt, Finnair via Helsinki, Brussels Airlines via Brussels, SAS' Scandinavian hubs or even Air France via Paris (usually an airport we avoid).

Some Asian and Middle East airlines also fly directly from their own hubs to UK regional airports. Emirates has flights to several UK cities, for example.

If you're bound via London for other European destinations, consider rerouting to avoid Heathrow. While most Qantas flights head for LHR, the Red Roo also has Singapore-Frankfurt flights.

Contact your airline -- even if your ticket carries change penalties -- and see whether there's extra flexibility in the circumstances.

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

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