Gatwick airport strike to cause major travel disruption

Strikes will hit major airlines including British Airways, Ryanair, and EasyJet

Planned strikes threaten travel disruption at Gatwick Airport and further concerns across Europe. Reuters
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Gatwick airport staff are poised to trigger weeks of misery for travellers through England's second major international hub after announcing a series of strikes in an unresolved pay dispute.

The walkout will involve 1,000 workers at London's Gatwick Airport, including baggage handlers, check-in staff, ground handlers and other key personnel, stage eight days of strikes spread across the peak summer travel period.

The union Unite declared that the strike actions will take place from July 28 to August 1, and then from August 4 to August 8, given the failed negotiations with the four major ground-handling companies: ASC, Menzies Aviation, GGS, and DHL Services.

The union, which had been in discussions with these companies since January, claims they have fallen short of making offers that align with workers' expectations.

The planned strikes cast a pall over the industry's recovery from pandemic lows and are likely to cause significant travel disruptions and cancellations at the UK's second biggest airport.

“Given the scale of the industrial action, disruption, delays, and cancellations are inevitable across the airport,” Unite said in its statement.

More than 4,400 flights, equating to more than 840,000 seats, are scheduled for departure from Gatwick during the strike days, according to aviation analytics company Cirium.

This forecast is particularly unsettling given the struggles the airport is already facing due to air traffic control (ATC) restrictions, staff shortages, and airspace closures connected to the conflict in Ukraine.

Major airlines such as British Airways, Ryanair, EasyJet, TUI, Wizz Air, and WestJet, are expected to bear the brunt of these actions.

The operational implications extend to ground handling, baggage handling, ramp agent, dispatchers, and check-in procedures. EasyJet has already cancelled 1,700 summer flights, mostly from Gatwick, due to the continuing ATC issue.

The strikes and their potential ripple effects come at a time when industrial action is becoming a common theme in different sectors in the UK, driven by the escalating cost of living and high inflation.

Train drivers, teachers, junior doctors, and nurses have also staged walkouts, reflecting the breadth of the discontent.

A series of strikes in France and Switzerland by air-traffic controllers earlier this summer underscore the pressing issue of worker unrest.

Despite these threats, Gatwick Airport is making arrangements to mitigate the effects of the strike.

A spokesperson affirmed that the airport is drafting plans to support airlines to ensure flights adhere to schedules as closely as possible, thereby limiting disruption to passengers.

Summer travel plans across Europe are likely to be strained due to recurring air traffic control issues.

Travel chaos across Europe

The European airspace management organisation, Eurocontrol, has already signalled possible disruptions due to the potential strikes at its Network Manager Operations Centre, in addition to the forecasted bottlenecks in several European countries.

Last summer's peak season was marred by cancellations and chaos at airports, and with the existing challenges, this year might be heading in a similar direction.

In the UK, EasyJet's decision to axe 2 per cent of its summer flight schedule, affecting holiday plans of 180,000 customers, is a telling sign.

In addition to this, about 100 security officers and terminal technicians at Birmingham Airport will commence continuous strike action from July 18, which is likely to cause significant flight delays.

In Belgium, Ryanair pilots are planning a strike on July 15-16 to demand better wages and working conditions.

In France, repeated air traffic control strikes have led to flight delays and limitations, intensifying the congestion in European airspace.

In Italy, a nationwide airport staff strike is scheduled for July 15, involving air-traffic controllers, baggage handlers and check-in personnel.

Portugal, too, is bracing for disruptions with EasyJet cancelling 350 flights ahead of a cabin staff strike on July 21-25.

And in Spain, Iberia pilots have been on an indefinite strike since June 6 over a pay dispute.

As the situation evolves, travellers are urged to stay updated with the latest news from their respective airlines and prepare for possible disruptions.

Updated: July 14, 2023, 11:54 AM