Summer holidays threatened as Heathrow security staff announce massive strike

A summer of travel chaos looms as thousands of security officers at Heathrow airport are set to strike for 31 days during the peak holiday period.

For the first time, security officers based at Terminal Three, who voted in favour of strike action last week, will join colleagues from Terminal Five and campus security on the picket line.

This escalation in the long-running pay dispute means a significant number of airlines face “disruption, delays and cancellations”, according to the Unite union. The T5 walkout was already expected to heavily affect British Airways’ summer programme, but Virgin Atlantic, Emirates, Qatar, United, American and Delta could now also face problems at T3.

The strike dates conincide with the Eid festival at the end of June, the beginning of the school holidays in July, and the summer bank holiday weekend (24-27 August).

Strikes are planned for the following dates:

  • 24, 25, 28, 29 and 30 June

  • 14, 15, 16, 21, 22, 23, 24, 28, 29, 30 and 31 July

  • 4, 5, 6 , 7, 11, 12, 13, 14, 18, 19, 20, 24, 25, 26, and 27 August

Unite general secretary 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] 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.”

The dispute could further escalate in the coming weeks, according to a statement from Unite. Security staff have rejected a 10.1 per cent pay offer, with the union highlighting that wages have fallen 24 per cent in real terms since 2017.

Heathrow officials, meanwhile, have been quick to reassure passengers planning to fly from the UK’s busiest airport this summer.

A Heathrow spokesperson 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.

“The simple fact remains that the majority of colleagues do not support Unite’s strikes. There is a two-year inflation-beating pay rise ready for colleagues, if only Unite would allow them to have a say. We will continue talks with Unite about resolving this issue.”

A previous three-day strike was held at the end of May, coinciding with what was supposed to be the busiest day for UK air travel since 2019, as well as a massive IT failure for British Airways. It followed 15 days of strikes over the Easter period earlier this year.

The union said today that there is “widespread bitterness” among staff over how they’ve been treated, with the two parties clashing over pay comparisons with workers at London’s other airports.

Simon Calder, The Independent’s travel correspondent, said: “Since this long and bitter pay dispute began, 1,400 members of the Unite union working in security at Heathrow have staged a series of strikes – mainly involving Terminal 5, the home of British Airways. Up to now, the effect has been limited. In the first round of industrial action, BA grounded about one in 20 flights to reduce the pressure on security checkpoints, but no cancellations have been made since then because of the walkouts.

“However, the addition of Terminal 3 staff to the strikes, increasing the number walking out to over 2,000, will stretch the resources that Heathrow’s management can deploy. I am not convinced that passengers on Virgin Atlantic, Emirates, Cathay Pacific and other T3 airlines will encounter the ‘disruption, delays and cancellations’ that Unite predicts. But it is regrettable that airline passengers using the main UK aviation hub have one more issue to fret about.”

Those using T2 and T4 should be unaffected, Mr Calder added.

Heathrow is one of the world’s busiest airports, with more than 60 million passengers passing through in 2022.