Brace yourself: Heathrow now facing even more strikes in July

Jul 6, 2022

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There were fresh fears among airlines operating at London Heathrow (LHR) today with news that refuelling workers are set to strike during the airport’s busiest period.

Aviation Fuel Services (AFS) — which serves over 70 airlines at the airport, including Air France, American Airlines, Delta, Emirates, KLM, SAS, Singapore Airlines and Virgin Atlantic — after staff voted to strike following a three-year pay freeze.

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Timed to have maximum impact, the 72-hour walkout will run from 5am on 21 July until 4.59am on July 24, which is, incidentally, around the same time that thousands of schools across the country shut for the summer holidays.

Pouring more fuel on the fire — or arguably none at all — Unite’s regional officer Kevin Hall warned that the strike “will inevitably cause considerable disruption across Heathrow,” and that it was “entirely of AFS’s own making.”

(Photo by Robert Smith/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

“Even now strike action and the resulting disruption can be avoided if AFS returns to the negotiating table and makes an offer that meets our member’ expectations,” added Hall.

Having helped SAS staff to strike a new wage deal to avert more industrial action, you wouldn’t put it past Unite in achieving something similar here. Its members at AFS voted 93% in favour of industrial action.

Related: These three airlines are less likely to cancel your flight right now

Airlines at Heathrow have cancelled tens of thousands of flights already this year, causing uncertainty and last-minute drama for passengers across the board (British Airways — which thankfully uses another fuelling company — is set to axe over 600 flights at Heathrow alone this summer).

Could airline bosses now try to put the squeeze on AFS, to get around the negotiation table and thwart further disruption? You’d hope so.

“We’re aware of planned industrial action by fuel suppliers AFS between 21st and 24th July,” a spokesperson for Virgin Atlantic told TPG.

“Our priority is to ensure that our customers can complete their travel plans, regardless of the proposed strikes, with minimal disruption. We continue to monitor the situation and will work with partners on potential contingency measures if needed.”

It’s not only the U.K.’s biggest air hubs that find themselves under pressure from unions and striking workers at present. Another worry for the travel sector is how strike action is crippling much of Europe too.

This week, Scandinavian Airlines filed for bankruptcy after 900 of its pilots refused to fly in a pay dispute. Ryanair, whose staff are also demanding better working conditions, have faced walkouts in Belgium, Italy, Portugal and much of Spain, with more to come.

(Photo by AmandaLewis / Getty Images)

Meanwhile, many of easyJet‘s Spanish operations are also taking a hit after cabin crew walked out on 1-3 July, and plan to do so again between 15-17 July and on 29-31 July throughout the country. 

Throw in train strikes across the continent — of late, Germany, Italy and this week France’s rail network lost up to 40% of its services as workers for state operation SNCF went on strike over a row over pay — and even if you reach your destination there’s no assurance that you won’t face further travel woes.

If you’re worried about strike action potentially putting a damper on your summer travel plans, keep up to date with the latest on the strike action right here.

Bottom line

It seems the domino effect of strike action in the aviation world is only just getting started. After years of pay freezes, unions and workers have realised that if they want to make a statement then there’s no better time than during a hectic period of summer travel to do it. Especially when the industry already has its back against the wall.

The positive news is that the AFS strike may be dealt with more swiftly than most industrial disputes seeing as there are tens of airlines (and thousands of their customers) at risk if workers don’t receive what they want.

Featured photo by Getty Images

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