Strikes Threaten to Disrupt Flights to and From England

Dec 17, 2016

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Update 12/22/16: British Airways crew have “suspended” the strike planned for December 25-26 following an increased pay offer from British Airways.

Update 12/20/16: Swissport has called off its strike (December 23-24), but the British Airways crew strike (December 25-26) still appears to be on.

The next week and a half are going to be rough for flights to — and within — England. Two strikes have been confirmed in the past 24 hours that are going to have a significant impact on travel.

Swissport Strike — December 23-24

Swissport contracts with many airlines to provide check-in and baggage handling services at non-hub locations. Over 1,500 Swissport “Unite” union members in the United Kingdom have announced a strike for 48 hours starting 12:01am on December 23. Members voted to strike after the union rejected a new pay offer.

The airport- and airline-specific impact of this strike isn’t known yet. However, Swissport lists 26 Great Britain airports where it provides services, including Manchester, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Glasgow and London’s Heathrow, Luton and Stansted airports.

Many baggage handling duties will be affected by the strike. Image courtesy of Swissport.
Many baggage handling duties will be affected by the strike. Image courtesy of Swissport.

British Airways released the following statement:

We use Swissport at a small number of UK airports and are currently discussing their contingency plans with them. We will do everything we can to minimise disruption to our customers. Our operations at London Heathrow, London Gatwick and London City will remain unaffected.

As of publishing, American Airlines, Delta, Lufthansa, Norwegian, United and Virgin Atlantic — all of which are Swissport customers in the UK — haven’t issued a travel advisory or statement regarding this strike. So, stay tuned.

British Airways Crew Strike — December 25-26

The same “Unite” union is involved in another pay-related strike. The British Airways “Mixed Fleet” cabin crew — one of five different BA cabin crews — has announced that it’s striking on December 25 and 26.

UK’s Independent calculates that 40,000 passengers are booked on flights that will be affected by this strike, and that 59 long-haul routes out of Heathrow alone are staffed by this Mixed Fleet crew. US destinations believed to be affected include: Atlanta, Austin, Chicago, Houston, Las Vegas, Miami, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Jose and Seattle.

British Airways isn’t mincing words on what it thinks about this move, saying that it is “appalled” by the strike, calling it a “calculated and heartless action.”

It can't hurt to ask for more credit for BA flights!
Many Heathrow-based British Airways flights will be grounded December 25-26.

British Airways has also provided a helpful breakdown of the airports and flights that will not be impacted:

  • All flights to and from London Gatwick will not be affected.
  • All flights to and from London City will not be affected.
  • All flights to and from Stansted will not be affected.
  • Flights operated by subsidiary OpenSkies between Paris and New York will not be affected.
  • Flights operated by British Airways franchise partners (Comair in South Africa and SUN-AIR in Scandinavia) will not be affected.
  • Flights operated by other carriers (including Oneworld Alliance partners) which have a BA codeshare flight number will not be affected.

At this point, British Airways is not allowing free rebookings or cancellations. However, American Airlines has issued very broad fee waivers for the affected travel dates. If you booked your flight by yesterday (December 16) and you’re scheduled to fly American Airlines, British Airways or Iberia to/through one of 29 listed airports in Europe on December 25-26, you can rebook your flight anytime between December 17 and January 10, 2017.

That means if you booked a cheap Europe flight departing on Christmas Day, you can delay your trip until after Christmas — even if you aren’t on an affected flight. However, this fee waiver won’t let you change your destination.

Bottom Line

If you’re planning on flying to or through England between December 23-26, stay tuned for updates about these strikes. If you’re booked through AA, you might want to take advantage of the travel notice — even if your flight isn’t operated by British Airways.

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