Passengers expected to face ‘two hour queues’ at Gatwick amid strikes, says airport boss
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, urged ministers to “get around the negotiating table” and make a better pay offer.
“Our strike mandate lasts right up until May,” he told the BBC earlier this morning. “We will be supporting this action up to May and we would re-ballot again if we have to.”
Air passengers have been warned to expect delays after Border Force staff who usually check passports start their strike action.
Striking Border Force staff are joined by employees at the National Highways, Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency and the Royal Mail in staging walkouts.
Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union at Network Rail are to strike again tomorrow, with passengers warned to travel by rain if “absolutely necessary”.
In other travel news, a severe traffic warning has been issued to drivers as millions of people embark on Christmas getaway journeys.
Gatwick passport control the smoothest part of a disrupted trip
At Gatwick airport, student Charlotte Coats has been relating her nightmare journey from New York City – attempting to reach a family gathering in Skye, Simon Calder, our travel correspondent, reports.
Ms Coats, who is studying at Columbia University, was booked from New York via Boston to Gatwick on Wednesday night.
“Unfortunately I didn’t get on the Boston flight [to Gatwick] so I had to spend 24 hours in Boston.”
She said that staff at Boston Logan airport then “bumped” her from the Gatwick flight.
“I had a fit at the check in, they put me back on the flight. I’ve got to London and had to book a flight to Inverness because my father’s already had to drive to Scotland.
“I’m going to Inverness, and then I’ve got to get over to the west coast, up near Skye.”
The easyJet flight to Inverness this afternoon cost an extra £200. But Ms Coats said that the border experience at Gatwick was the one smooth part of her trip.
“It was fantastic, the Navy were there, I cannot complain.”
Matt Mathers23 December 2022 11:26
Breaking: Nurses to strike again on 18 & 19 Jan if no progress made on pay
Nurses in England will strike again on 18 and 19 January in an escalation of their pay dispute with the UK government.
The Royal College of Nursing said they would walk out unless negotiations on pay are opened.
The government has said it is sticking to the recommendations of the independent pay review body which sets public sector wokers’ pay.
Full story to follow shortly.
Matt Mathers23 December 2022 11:03
Sunak: Check your journey before travelling
Rishi Sunak has warned people to check before they travel as strikes are predicted to cause unprecedented chaos in the run-up to Christmas, Kate Devlin, our Whitehall editor, reports.
The prime minister said: “I would urge everybody who is travelling at the moment to just please check before you make your journey – so you know what it happening.”
But he defended his government’s stance to hold firm on pay even as unions said strikes could last until May.
Not negotiating on wages is “in the long term… the right thing for the whole country”.
Visiting a homeless shelter in London, he said: “What I’m trying to do is make the right long-term decisions for the country, for everybody’s benefit.
“We all know the major economic challenge we all face now is inflation, it’s inflation eating into everyone’s pay packets…
“I want to make sure we reduce inflation, part of that is being responsible when it comes to setting public sector pay. That’s why we have an independent process.
“I know things are difficult but it’s right there’s an independent body that makes recommendations to the government and the government accepted those.
“It increased its offer, matched all those recommendations, I think that’s the reasonable thing to do. And in the long term it’s the right thing for the whole country that we beat inflation.”
Matt Mathers23 December 2022 11:00
Strike action set to derail Christmas Eve train services
Train passengers are being urged to only travel on Christmas Eve if their journey is “absolutely necessary” as a strike will decimate services.
A walkout by thousands of members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) at Network Rail means Britain’s railways will shut down early, and some routes will have no trains all day.
There is usually high demand for services on the afternoon and early evening of Christmas Eve as people travel to spend the festive period with loved ones.
Matt Mathers23 December 2022 10:48
Little disruption so far at Heathrow
There has been little disruption this morning despite strike action by Border Force staff, Heathrow Airport has said.
A spokesperson said the morning arrivals peak had started well.
“Immigration halls are free flowing at Heathrow with Border Force and the military contingency providing a good service,” the spokesperson added.
Matt Mathers23 December 2022 10:31
Who is affected by severe traffic warning?
The RAC has said that drivers can expect congestion clockwise between junction seven for the M23 and junction 16 for the M40.
Traffic there is expected to peak at 12.30pm, when delays of around 50 minutes are likely.
Other roads where long queues are expected on Friday include the M60 near Manchester, the M6 in north-west England and the M40 in Oxfordshire.
Junction four of the M20 westbound in Kent remains closed on Friday morning after a serious crash on Thursday.
National Highways said vehicles are being diverted on to exit and entry slip roads, causing three miles of congestion and delays of at least 45 minutes.
Drivers in Wales and southern England are also battling with heavy rain, which the Met Office said will spread northwards to reach southern Scotland and Northern Ireland during Friday afternoon.
Pressure on the roads ahead of Christmas Day is being exacerbated by industrial action.
Matt Mathers23 December 2022 10:15
Simon Calder, The Independent’s travel correspondent, has been at Gatwick airport since 5.30am, meeting passengers at International Arrivals at the North Terminal.
“It’s much more ‘Love Actually’ than it is ‘The nightmare before Christmas’,” he reports.
“Passengers who are coming through are reporting to me that either they used the eGates, which was absolutely fine, or – if they were travelling with a family – found the transactions at the border very smooth.
“The Navy and Air Force have supplied personnel – no one will tell me how many – and so far there are no reports of long waits.
“If we are going to see really significant issues it’s going to be around the M25 at Heathrow rather than here at Gatwick – or indeed at Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff or Glasgow
“The Home Office, the airports and the airlines have modelled the likely flows of passengers according to scheduled arrivals.
“Where flight disruption is taking place – such as arrivals from the deep-frozen Midwest in the US – that could precipitate problems.”
Matt Mathers23 December 2022 09:58
Ministers have abdicated their responsibilities on strikes – union
Government ministers have abdicated their responsibility to sort out strikes by blocking rail employers from making a deal with RMT, the union has claimed.
The RMT said in a statement: “Since meeting the minister last week there have been no further scheduled negotiations to try to prevent upcoming strikes on Network Rail.
“The union has done deals in every part of the railway network where the Department for Transport is not involved.
“The RMT said both pay offers from Network Rail and the train operating companies are well below what has been agreed in Scotland, Wales and where metro mayors have control of the rail franchise.
“The rejected offer on Network Rail was also conditional on ripping up working conditions for railway workers, including unsafe practices for the travelling public such as a 50% cut in scheduled maintenance tasks and an unacceptable hike in unsocial hours.
“On the train operators, RMT members would have been forced to accept a paltry pay sum, Driver Only Operations (DOO) across the whole network, and the closure of all ticket offices creating an inaccessible and less safe railway.”
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “The union remains available for talks to resolve this dispute.
“But until the government gives the rail industry a mandate to come to a negotiated settlement on job security, pay and conditions of work, our industrial campaign will continue into the new year, if necessary.”
The government denies it is blocking a deal.
Matt Mathers23 December 2022 09:39
Qantas plane heading for Heathrow diverted to Azerbaijan
More than 400 passengers and crew who were expecting to be lining up for passport control at Heathrow airport are instead on the shore of the Caspian Sea – with little clarity about when they might complete their journey from Australia to the UK, Simon Calder, our travel correspondent, writes.
Their plane was diverted to Baku in Azerbaijan, reported due to a warning of a fire in a cargo hold. Qantas flight QF1 from Sydney via Singapore to London was making good progress for an early morning arrival at Heathrow.
Data on Flightradar24 shows the Airbus A380, registered VH-OQH, was flying west normally at 36,000 feet over central Georgia at 2.15am GMT. But then it turned around and flew east for 400 miles, landing safely.
The double-deck jet landed at Baku airport – the closest in the region with the facilities to handle the world’s biggest passenger plane.
A Qantas spokesperson told The Independent: “The aircraft intermittently alerted the pilots to the potential of smoke in the cargo hold.
“Although it was considered likely to be a sensor fault, the aircraft diverted to Baku as a safety precaution.
“Initial investigations have found no evidence of smoke in the cargo hold.We thank customers for their patience and we are working to get them on their way as quickly as possible.”
Matt Mathers23 December 2022 09:30
Severe traffic warning issued as millions embark on Christmas getaway
A severe traffic warning has been issued as millions of drivers embark on Christmas getaway journeys.
The RAC, which expects 7.9 million leisure journeys to be made across the UK on Friday and Christmas Eve combined, published the alert for a stretch of the M25.
RAC spokesman Rod Dennis said: “We’re expecting to see lengthy delays on parts of the M25 today as Christmas getaway and end-of-the-week commuter traffic combine.
“We advise drivers, if possible, to avoid these roads around this time or delay their trips until after 7pm this evening when traffic is predicted to be lighter.”
Matt Mathers23 December 2022 09:17