Much of Britain is likely to grind to a halt Wednesday, November 30, when two million public sector workers walk out on strike in protest against pension cuts.
Customs and immigration officials' participation in the walkout is taking center stage in the union-led action and looks set to cause misery for travellers. Long queues at immigration are expected to start forming at airports tonight, with the situation worsening throughout the day tomorrow.
More than just an inconveniently long wait at passport control, immigration at London Heathrow, Britain's busiest airport, is expected to be delayed so severely that passengers could be held on incoming aircraft to avoid congestion in the terminals. Overcrowding inside terminals would ultimately cause delays for both planes on the ground as well as those headed for Heathrow, forcing diversions and displacing crews.
The bad news has been tempered somewhat by an announcement from the British government outlining a plan for striking border control staff to be replaced by other civil servants not involved in the industrial action. Additionally, regional airports are not likely to suffer the same kind of disruption expected at Heathrow as they process far fewer international passengers, but passengers should still be prepared to face delays.
Border controls at U.K. ports will also be subject to disruption, but only one cruise ship, Fred. Olsen's Balmoral, is due into a U.K. port tomorrow, on a turnaround day in Southampton. The line is confident that passengers will not experience any trouble disembarking. A spokeswoman told x: "We are not expecting any disruption tomorrow in Southampton; we only need one or two officers to clear the ship, and the UK Border Agency have advised us we will be attended, albeit perhaps by someone other than the usual staff we see."
Nonetheless, this is the season for long haul cruising, as well as river cruises in Europe to visit the Advent markets (to which many passengers travel by train via St. Pancras International, which will also be affected), so there could well be an impact on some cruise passengers.
If you're travelling tomorrow, here are a few measures you can take:
If you have booked your cruise as a flight-inclusive package, check with the cruise line or your travel agent about contingency plans.
If you've booked cruise-only and arranged your own flights, check with your airline before leaving for the airport to confirm that your flight is operating.
Check to see whether your travel insurance covers strike action; many policies do.
Keep any timed train ticket or parking receipt as you may need proof for an insurance claim -- should you miss a flight -- that you arrived in good time to check in.
See if you can change your flight; British Airways, Virgin and BMI are all allowing passengers to do this.
Know your rights with airlines, particularly if you are likely to be stranded abroad. If an airline cannot get you home, it is obliged to provide food and accommodation until it can do so.
-- by Sue Bryant, x Contributing Editor