Heathrow strike: Everything you need to know as airport ground handling walkout begins

Three hundred and fifty ground handlers at Heathrow have just started a three-day strike over a pay dispute. The shutdown is due to end at 4 a.m. on Monday, November 21.

The employees are members of the Unite union and mainly work loading and unloading baggage for the ground handling company, Menzies Aviation.

The walkout comes as England and Wales fans prepare to fly to Qatar for the World Cup, which kicks off on Sunday November 20.

Here’s everything you need to know.

Which airlines could be affected?

Unite says the strike will “particularly affect” 10 airlines: Aer Lingus of Ireland; Lufthansa of Germany and its subsidiaries, Austrian Airlines and Swiss; transatlantic carriers Air Canada and American Airlines; Australia’s Qantas; Egypt Air; Finair; and TAP Portugal.

Until Thursday, twice as many ground handling staff were expected to leave, affecting many other airlines.

But Unite reached an agreement with Dnata on an improved offer on Thursday and the strike was called off. Dnata said the agreement “provides concrete support to our employees in the context of the current cost of living crisis”.

Passengers traveling on Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines and Emirates should no longer have their journey disrupted.

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic passengers were not likely to be affected, as their ground handling arrangements are separate.

How many disruptions will there be?

The union says “Heathrow is preparing for major disruption”. Unite regional officer Kevin Hall said: ‘The strike will inevitably cause serious delays for passengers at Heathrow.

Since aviation returned to scale after the Covid crisis, staff shortages among material handlers have caused problems even though everyone was working as normal. Many passengers have reported problems with missing and delayed baggage at airports, including Heathrow.

But airport bosses say the strike should not result in flights being grounded. A Heathrow spokesperson said: ‘Affected airlines have already put contingency measures in place and flight cancellations are not expected.

Typically, when ground handling personnel take industrial action, handlers are brought in from other airports to cover.

What is the dispute about?

Pay. The union says, “This dispute is entirely due to Menzies. He had every opportunity to make a fair wage offer to our members, but he stubbornly refused.

“All offers made to date are well below the current real inflation rate of 14.2% (RPI) and represent a substantial reduction in wages in real terms.”

Menzies Aviation calls the union “incredibly obstructive” and says “the strike will not benefit anyone.”

Miguel Gomez Sjunnesson, the company’s executive vice president for Europe, said he wanted to “reassure our airline customers and their passengers that we have robust contingency plans in place.”

Should passengers with future bookings be worried about strikes?

The threat of industrial action never seems far from aviation, and there have been a series of disputes involving ground handling companies.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, there was something of a race to the bottom, with ground handlers being lowered on prices by the airlines that contract them. But most disputes are settled with substantial increases.

The main concern about strikes probably comes from air traffic controllers abroad, especially in France, which can lead to mass cancellations.

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