Strikes by British Airways check‑in staff at Heathrow could be announced as early as this week, adding to the disruption of holiday flights at the start of peak summer.
Any strikes risk feeding the daily reports of disruption in the national media, with agents reporting clients increasingly raising concerns.
The Travel Network Group chief commercial officer Vim Vithaldas said: “It’s a constant conversation at the point of booking.” Spires Travel manager Paul Knapper said: “Everybody is asking about flights and cancellations, but it’s not putting people off booking.”
A leading aviation source accused the media of “nitpicking over every delay or cancellation” and pointed out: “Cancellations over half‑term were almost 3% compared to a normal 1%, but 97% of flights operated.”
However, the source said: “It’s like whack-a-mole. You deal with one issue, then another pops up. There is a clear ground-handler shortage and as soon as there is a delay to an incoming flight, there is disruption.
“It varies day to day, but three delayed flights can mess up a whole airport. The baggage handlers can’t unload the delayed aircraft and those they’re supposed to be unloading.
“Someone tweets about a delay, the press picks it up and portrays it as ‘delays everywhere’.”
The source insisted: “On departures, the prospects [for peak summer] are better than a few weeks ago. On airport security, it’s much better. It will be busy. There will be longer queues, but that is not unusual in summer. The majority of people at the majority of airports will get away without too much delay.”
But the source warned: “It will be bumpy. There is a high sickness rate and it’s having a bigger impact than normal because of staff shortages.
“We’ll see long queues at peak times at some airports and that will be portrayed as ‘travel chaos’.”
The problems are compounded by staff shortages and air traffic control issues around Europe.
The source said: “There is real pressure on air traffic control – not in the UK, but in Europe. The combination of staff shortages, air traffic delays and the ground handlers is causing mounting delays. The problems vary by state, but Schiphol is a disaster. Dublin is bad. Germany, France and Italy have problems.”
Any strikes by BA check-in staff will target the start of the school holidays in England, most likely the weekends of Friday, July 22 and Friday, July 29.
The Unite and GMB unions revealed overwhelming strike votes among the 700-plus staff at Heathrow who are demanding restoration of a 10% pay cut. BA has offered only a one-off payment.
A union source said: “It’s a short window for BA [to settle]. Our members aren’t happy. They’ve suffered pay cuts. There is a cost-of-living crisis. The airport is in disarray. The airline is in disarray and the members are customer-facing. They’re taking a lot of flak.”
A second source said: “Talks last Friday didn’t get anywhere. The ball is in BA’s court. These are workers struggling to make ends meet. They’re angry and desperate. The smart move for BA would be to settle.”
BA said in a statement: “We’re extremely disappointed the unions have chosen this course of action. We’re fully committed to working together to find a solution.”