How families can save hundreds of pounds off their summer holidays by flying midweek to avoid Heathrow strike chaos – as travellers are urged to check their insurance in case it doesn’t cover cancellations
- Unite has ordered 31 days of action by security staff at Britain’s biggest airport
- Passengers are advised to book tickets on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays
British families should fly midweek from Heathrow Airport this summer to avoid strike action and benefit from cheaper ticket prices, travel experts said today.
Holidaymakers were also told to check their travel insurance because some exclude cover for strikes, and do not give cover for strikes announced after they are bought.
It comes after Unite yesterday ordered 31 days of action by security staff at Britain’s biggest airport – with many dates falling over weekends in late June, July and August.
They include the Muslim festival of Eid in late June and schools finishing for summer in July, and mark a dramatic escalation of the union’s bitter dispute with the airport.
There have been 18 days of walkouts so far – and this time around 2,000 security officers will down tools in Terminal 3 and Terminal 5. The action will be on June 24, 25, 28, 29 and 30, and July 14-16, 21-24, 28-31 and August 4-7, 11-14, 18-20 and 24-27.
Research by MailOnline looking at prices of return flights from Heathrow to New York this summer found those travelling on midweek days of Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday can save nearly £100 each compared to travelling on Saturday or Sunday.
When considering tickets between June 24 and August 31, the average of a midweek direct flight is £519.63, while the price on weekends is £617.60 – a £97.97 difference.
In addition, the average cost of flying on a strike day over the same period is £576.23, while the price on a non-strike day is £528.02 – a difference of £48.21.
MailOnline also looked at direct flights between Heathrow and Madrid over the same time period – and again found it was cheaper to fly midweek and on non-strike days.
Full list of strike days by Heathrow security staff in summer 2023
- June 24
- June 25
- June 28
- June 29
- June 30
- July 14
- July 15
- July 16
- July 21
- July 22
- July 23
- July 24
- July 28
- July 29
- July 30
- July 31
- August 4
- August 5
- August 6
- August 7
- August 11
- August 12
- August 13
- August 14
- August 18
- August 19
- August 20
- August 24
- August 25
- August 26
- August 27
A return on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday from Heathrow to Madrid is £213.73, while the weekend price is £297.90 – a difference of £84.17.
The average price of a return on a strike day is £269.19, while a non-strike day is £236.18 – £33.01 cheaper, according to the data taken from Google Flights.
With strikes days mostly falling on weekends, travel experts say people yet to book flights should look at travelling midweek and early morning if possible.
Paul Charles, chief executive of the travel consultancy The PC Agency, told MailOnline: ‘I’d urge anyone who hasn’t yet booked their flights to consider the day they travel, so ideally avoiding strike days at weekends, and the time they travel. The earlier the flight departs, the less likely they are to queue for so long.’
Nicky Kelvin, editor at The Points Guy, added: ‘For those who do want to get away, they should look at midweek flights in order to avoid the strikes, as these take place mostly at the weekends.’
And Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of independent travel agent group The Advantage Travel Partnership, said: ‘People looking to book flights abroad this summer could speak to their travel agent about whether flying midweek could avoid any potential disruption. Flying midweek may also be a cheaper option.’
More than 42,600 flights are set to depart Heathrow over the strike window from June 24 to August 27, according to aviation analytics firm Cirium.
Its data shared with MailOnline also revealed more than 20,000 flights are scheduled to leave Heathrow on strike days – 3,241 in June, 7,166 in July and 9,756 in August.
This means 4.4million seats have been put at risk by the action, nearly half of which fall in August alone.
Mr Charles added: ‘It’s looking like a summer of stressful travel ahead. These strikes by security teams have the potential to cause delays and anxiety among passengers travelling at the busiest times of the year.
‘Families especially are likely to be caught up by the industrial action and will worry about whether they will catch their flight in time.
Passengers queue at security at London Heathrow on June 22 last year amid staff shortages
‘Passengers will need to ensure they check-in two hours before their flight to ensure they get through what are likely to be slower security lanes.’
What should you do if you’re worried about flight disruption? Travel expert NICKY KELVIN reveals his top tips
- Check your flight before travelling. In the week and days before, just to make sure they haven’t cancelled the operations due to the issues at the terminals. There are a number of websites which help with this, including FlightRadar, which will allow passengers to locate their aircraft and where it is located into the run up to their departure. Also Twitter is actually a great resource to see what it’s like live on the ground in the airport, to see if there are huge queues or to see how the situation is developing.
- Where possible, if you’re booking travel from now, avoid Heathrow airport and look to alternatives depends on your location.
- Leave plenty of time to get through security, however be mindful that arriving too early could potentially cause excessive crowds in the terminal . Leaving 3-4 hours for long-haul flights is always prudent.
- Travellers should be prepared for delays at even at priority security lanes.
- Being efficient at security check points is more important than ever.
- Travellers should be ready to remove laptops and other electrical items from bags which need to be scanned individually and ensure they are only carrying liquids of 100ml or less. All liquids should be under 100ml and should all fit into one of the small, clear plastic bags which are issued at the airport but if passengers can have the bags prepared ahead of time, either at home or before they join the queue at security, then they can simply place items in the trays as required and this reduces the chance of their bags getting searched and causing additional security checks which causes significant additional delays for both that passenger and others behind them.
- Try and travel with hand luggage only, as you will avoid further queues to check in and on arrival waiting for hold luggage.
- Can you look at postponing your holiday to another time? Check the terms and conditions of the provider you’re travelling with
NICKY KELVIN is editor at The Points Guy
He continued: ‘I am sure that Heathrow will be adding extra resources to process passengers through the security channels but they need to ensure they overdeliver at one of the most critical times of the year, when we also know that the volume of flights is at its highest due to the holiday period.’
And Mr Kelvin said: ‘The new strikes come at the worst time for travellers both in and out of the UK this summer. This time not only is Terminal 5 at Heathrow affected, but Terminal 3 as well which is the home of other airlines such as Virgin Atlantic and Emirates.
‘In total, there are over 2,000 security staff set to go on strike, across 31 days in total at Britain’s busiest airport which could spell chaos for travellers.
‘Summer holidays will be affected for children, as well as those travelling for the bank holiday. The months from June to August are the busiest each year, so this really couldn’t come at a worse time.’
Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, warned air passengers to check whether their insurance policy covers strikes by airline or airport staff.
He told MailOnline: ‘This summer is set to be one of the busiest in recent history, so it’s incredibly concerning to see more strikes have been announced at Heathrow, stretching into the school holidays.
‘It’s essential that airlines and airports work together to keep travellers updated during this period of industrial action, and fulfil their legal obligations to passengers in the event of cancellations or delays.
‘Travellers should also ensure they have travel insurance from the date they book their trip and always check the policy carefully, to ensure it covers all the eventualities you would expect – in particular, not all policies will cover travellers in the event of strikes by airline or airport staff, for example.’
Advice from Compare The Market states that travel insurance can cover delay and cancellation caused by strikes – so travellers should buy it as soon as they have booked a ticket.
It can also cover passengers for costs arising from missed connections or delays caused by a strike, although it will not cover the cost of the flight itself because you can normally get a refund from the airline for this.
But experts also said some travel insurance policies specifically exclude cover for strikes, so this should be checked before purchase. In addition, travel insurance will not cover people for industrial action if the policy is bought after a strike has been announced.
However, experts do not believe the Heathrow strikes will result in a surge in staycations because the announcement has come so late – and people yet to book are probably more likely to consider alternative airports than stay in the UK.
And Mr Boland added: ‘The vast majority of summer holidays have already been booked, so unless travellers booked with a tour operator which allows a fee-free change to travel dates, most people won’t be able to move their holiday.
‘The best defence is to ensure you have comprehensive travel insurance, which includes cover for industrial action, in case the strikes significantly affect your journey.
‘These strikes will understandably be causing anxiety to travellers, so it’s essential that Heathrow and affected airlines work together to keep passengers updated of any potential impact to their journeys. In the event of significant delays or cancellations, airlines must uphold their legal responsibilities to reroute or refund passengers, and provide assistance as required.
Queues in the departures area of London Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 on July 21 last year
‘For the few people still looking to book a flight this summer, it is worth considering flying from alternative airports if you can.’
How flight costs vary by day of travel for Britons
MailOnline looked at the average cost of a direct return flight each day from Heathrow to Madrid or New York.
Dates considered were between the first strike day of June 24 and August 31, four days after the last strike day.
Here are the average costs on a seven-day return (eg Sat 1 July to Sat 8 July):
- Midweek (Tue/Wed/Thu) – £519.63
- Weekend (Sat/Sun) – £617.60
- Strike day – £576.23
- Non-strike day – £528.02
- Midweek (Tue/Wed/Thu) – £213.73
- Weekend (Sat/Sun) – £297.90
- Strike day – £269.19
- Non-strike day – £236.18
Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of The Advantage Travel Partnership, told MailOnline: ‘The strike action confirmed by the Unite union which will involve more than 2,000 members of security staff at Heathrow Terminals 3 and 5 this summer is massively disappointing.
‘This new wave of strikes, and the ongoing disruption to aspects of our daily lives as a result of industrial action, will do nothing but add even further anxiety and uncertainty for people who have worked hard all year to save for a summer holiday.
‘Many of who will be planning overseas trips to visit friends and family overseas, and some for the first time since travel restrictions were removed.’
But she said ‘the vast majority of holidaymakers will be unaffected by these strikes’ because many people will be flying from other airports across the UK.
Ms Lo Bue-Said also said strike announcements are ‘currently doing nothing to deter people from wanting to get away’, with 44 per cent of bookings made across its travel agency partnership last week for departures within the next 12 weeks.
She continued: ‘We understand the airport continues to plan for robust contingency measures in order to minimise any potential disruption and conversations between Heathrow Airport and the Unions are on-going to find a suitable outcome.
‘Recent strikes have shown that the disruption has been minimal, but it doesn’t stop people from worrying and getting anxious.’
Members of the Unite union stand at a picket line near London Heathrow Airport on March 31
She said anyone that will be impacted by strikes should ‘prepare as much as possible for longer wait times’ and try and minimise carry-on bags to avoid bottlenecks at security.
What do the airlines say about the strikes?
‘Like other airlines, we’re working closely with Heathrow Airport to ensure robust contingency plans are in place.’
‘We’re aware of further proposed industrial action this summer by Unite members employed by Heathrow Airport Ltd, including security officers. We’ll continue to monitor the situation and will work closely with partners, including Heathrow Airport, to ensure that our customers can complete their travel plans as smoothly as possible.’
Ms Lo Bue-Said added: ‘There is unprecedented pent-up demand for travel this year and people are also looking forward to being able to travel freely this summer and enjoy a well-earned break away.’
She said a recent survey by the organisation had found most consumers are looking to take at least two holidays this year despite the cost-of-living crisis with Tenerife, Majorca, Alicante, Lanzarote and Antalya as the five most-popular destinations.
Ms Lo Bue-Said continued: ‘If you have booked through a travel agent, we would recommend getting in contact with them closer to departure, as they will have the most up to date advice and information for your travel.
‘We’re hoping that contingency measures put in place will avoid unnecessary disruption for travellers and that the majority will not experience delays.’
Passengers due to travel on the strike days have been contacting airlines on social media to find out whether their flight is still running.
Among them was Eram Rabbani who tweeted British Airways to say: ‘I have flights booked in August. Unfortunately my outward and inwards flights falls on dates corresponding to those when Heathrow is due to have strikes. When or how will I be informed if my flights will be cancelled due to the strikes?’
Another Twitter user asked British Airways: ‘I have a flight to London Heathrow on July 21, and strikes for that day have just been announced.
‘Is this a reason for you to allow me to change my flight (not paying £150 in fees) to the day before (as the dates after are all strike days too)? Thanks.’
How many flights could be impacted by the Heathrow strikes?
Between June 24 and August 27 there are more than 42,600 flights scheduled to depart London Heathrow
On the affected strike days between June and August, 20,163 flights are scheduled to depart Heathrow – equating to 4,414,721 seats
3,241 flights are scheduled for departure on the June strike dates, and 7,166 flights are scheduled over the July dates
August will see the most significant impact, with 9,756 flights and 2,135,048 seats scheduled to depart Heathrow on strike dates
Data provided to MailOnline by aviation analytics firm Cirium
And Gavin Longthorn tweeted Virgin to ask: ‘Just found out there is a strike at Heathrow on our day of departure have we any options of change?’
British Airways was forced to cancel some flights during the last rounds of strikes. The action also threatens to spark disruption and delays.
Heathrow is one of the busiest airports in the world and airlines are in talks with its bosses about the possibility of having to make cancellations.
Most passengers were unaffected during the previous strikes.
But the Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents border officials, could yet announce more walkouts in a bid to cause chaos at passport booths.
And it comes after a year of train walkouts by rail unions which have also thrown holidaymakers’ plans into disarray.
The Mail reported on Saturday how the rail strikes, which are thought to have cost the economy at least £5billion, could drag on for a further year because talks have collapsed.
Critics last night accused Unite of a ‘totally cynical’ attempt to wreck families’ holidays with the Heathrow strikes.
Conservative MP Greg Smith, who sits on the Commons transport committee, said: ‘This is now beyond an absolute joke.
‘People will be looking forward to their summer holiday that, in many instances, they will have saved up for a long time for – only to be thwarted by Labour-backing unions.
‘It will go down very badly with the British public. It’s totally cynical. All this is to try and cause maximum disruption to real hard-working people.
Can I get compensation for a delayed flight?
By ZAC CAMPBELL
If your flight is cancelled, you have a number of options.
You are legally entitled to a full refund, which includes other flights from the airline that you won’t use in the same booking, such as onward or return flights.
You are also entitled to a replacement flight to get you to your destination.
If your cancelled flight delays you by two hours or more, you have the legal right to be helped with costs.
If the replacement flight offered to you has delayed you by two hours or more, and you were given less than two weeks’ notice, you are legally entitled to compensation.
The Heathrow Airport website recommends that passengers should arrive at the airport three hours before their departure for international flights, and two hours before take-off for domestic flights.
A number of flights could be cancelled due to the summer strikes at Heathrow, so it is best to check the status of your flight before you travel to the airport.
‘It’s totally unacceptable that the unions want to take out their political grievances on the British public like this.’
And Lee Anderson MP, deputy chairman of the Tory party, said: ‘Once again ordinary Brits will have their hard-earned holidays grounded by these perpetual strikers.
‘Thirty-one days of despicably timed strikes over the summer holidays threatens to leave thousands of families in the lurch and countless school holidays ruined, despite a significant pay offer having already been made.
‘Meanwhile, the Labour Party stands side by side on their picket lines and refuses to back our Minimum Service Levels legislation [designed to limit the impact of strikes]. This is no surprise given they’ve pocketed millions from the Unite strike barons.’
Unite has donated £9million to the Labour party and its local constituency groups since 2019.
Military personnel were drafted in to check passports at UK airports including Heathrow during Border Force strikes in December.
Asked if the Government is planning anything similar for the forthcoming round of industrial action, a Downing Street spokesman said: ‘I’m not aware of it as things stand now, but, as I say, of course we will continue to keep an eye on the situation.
‘We obviously recognise that this will be a major concern for those who are looking to travel over the next few months and those who are looking to get away on their summer holidays.
‘Ultimately it’s a matter for Heathrow and the union to resolve, but we expect operators to make every effort to minimise disruption and to ensure those who are reliant on their services and those who have booked flights can still travel.’
Unite has snubbed a 10 per cent pay increase over two years for members, which would take the total starting earnings of a security officer to nearly £32,000 when allowances are included.
Unions urge peers to oppose anti-strikes bill
Unions are urging members of the House of Lords to oppose controversial government plans for a law aimed at providing minimum levels of service during strikes.
Peers will again debate the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill today after previously suggesting amendments including preventing workers facing the sack, which were overturned by MPs.
Unions have warned the Bill will mean that, when workers lawfully vote to strike in health, education, fire, transport, border security and nuclear decommissioning, they could be forced to attend work and sacked if they do not comply.
Unions have vowed to campaign against the legislation and are expected to mount a legal challenge.
The TUC has estimated that one in five workers could lose their right to strike, and accused Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of attacking workers’ ability to win a fair pay deal in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis.
TUC general secretary Paul Nowak said: ‘Last month, peers overwhelmingly rejected the Government’s brazen attack on the right to strike. They must stand firm today and oppose the Conservative Government’s pernicious plans once more.
‘No one should be sacked for trying to win a better deal at work, but this draconian legislation would mean that, when workers democratically vote to strike, they could be forced to work and sacked if they don’t comply.
‘It’s undemocratic, unworkable and is very likely to breach our commitments under international law. It will poison industrial relations and exacerbate disputes rather than help resolve them.
‘Rishi Sunak’s answer to the cost-of-living crisis is making it harder for workers to win a pay rise. It’s time to ditch this spiteful Bill for good and protect the right to strike.’
The planned law follows almost a year of strikes by hundreds of thousands of workers ranging from barristers and junior doctors to teachers and train drivers.
Ministers argue that the public is entitled to have a minimum level of services during strikes to reduce disruption to their lives.
Most are demanding better terms and conditions and for pay to match the cost of living, which is rising at its fastest rate in nearly 40 years.
The strikes come as Heathrow is struggling to recover from the impact of the pandemic.
The airport’s operator recorded a £139million loss in the first three months of this year.
Unite boss Sharon Graham said: ‘Unite is putting Heathrow on notice that strike action at the airport will continue until it makes a fair pay offer to its workers.
‘Make no mistake, our members will receive the union’s unflinching support in this dispute. Heathrow Airport Limited has got its priorities all wrong.
‘This is an incredibly wealthy company, which this summer is anticipating bumper profits and an executive pay bonanza.
‘It’s also expected to pay out huge dividends to shareholders, yet its workers can barely make ends meet and are paid far less than workers at other airports.’
Unite regional co-ordinating officer Wayne King added: ‘Delays, disruption and cancellations will be inevitable as a result of the strike action.
‘But this dispute is completely of Heathrow airport’s own making.’
There was chaos at airports last summer when strikes and staff shortages coincided with a surge in demand for travel post-pandemic.
Over the past year Britain has seen walkouts by railway and postal workers as well as nurses and teachers.
UK annual inflation slowed to a 13-month low in April, but remains elevated at 8.7 per cent as soaring food prices offset weaker energy costs, recent official data showed.
Heathrow, one of the world’s largest airports, is owned by a consortium led by Spanish construction giant Ferrovial.
The consortium also includes sovereign wealth funds from China, Singapore and Qatar as well as North American shareholders.
A Heathrow spokesman said: ‘Passengers can rest assured that we will do everything we can to minimise strike disruption so they can enjoy their hard-earned summer holidays.
‘Unite has already tried and failed to disrupt the airport with unnecessary strikes on some of our busiest days and we continue to build our plans to protect journeys during any future action.‘
A British Airways spokesman told MailOnline: ’Like other airlines, we’re working closely with Heathrow Airport to ensure robust contingency plans are in place.’
And a Virgin Atlantic spokesman said: ‘We’re aware of further proposed industrial action this summer by Unite members employed by Heathrow Airport Ltd, including security officers.
‘We’ll continue to monitor the situation and will work closely with partners, including Heathrow Airport, to ensure that our customers can complete their travel plans as smoothly as possible.’
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