Heathrow strike suspended ahead of summer holiday rush

Business

The start of the big summer holiday getaway at Heathrow Airport is no longer facing the imminent threat of disruption from a strike by staff at a plane refuelling company.

The Unite union had said its members at Aviation Fuel Services (AFS) would walk out from 5am on Thursday until the same time on Sunday in a dispute over pay, resulting in disruption for passengers using the company’s client airlines.

They include KLM, Emirates, Virgin, United, Singapore, Air France and Delta.

However, the action was suspended on Wednesday evening when it emerged that the company had made what was described by the union as an “improved” pay offer that was to be put to a new ballot.

While not over, the dispute is not of Heathrow’s making.

It threatened to add to the UK hub airport’s 2022 troubles that have marred its recovery since the end of COVID pandemic restrictions.

It has struggled to cope with the return of high demand for international travel because of staff shortages, a headwind that is also affecting the wider industry.

More on Heathrow Airport

Airlines and airports alike have faced criticism for disruption to passengers this year, especially during peak times, that has seen late-notice cancellations, delays and operations at ground-handling, check-in and passport control creaking under the strain.

Chaos at Heathrow Terminal Two after an issue with the baggage system. Pic: Deborah Haynes

While airlines have taken advantage of a government amnesty allowing them to cancel summer flights and minimise the threat of cancellations without threat of penalty, Heathrow has had to go further this month to improve its own reliability.

It revealed, on 12 July, that it had told airlines to cease fresh passenger bookings for the summer ahead while placing a limit on the number of daily departing passengers.

The action amounted to a cut of 4,000 customers daily.

It was revealed this week that the capacity cap would be extended until the end of October.

AFS told Sky News that the action, had it gone ahead, would have restricted its ability to refuel planes.

The airlines it serves said they had made contingency plans in the event the strikes had gone ahead.

While the details of the new AFS offer were not divulged, it had previously defended a “collective” proposal that, it said, amounted to a rise in awards of more than 15.5% during 2022.

Read more on Sky News:
What are passengers’ rights when airlines cancel flights?
Two more days of rail strikes announced

The union had been pressing for more, saying that the company’s offer only covered losses from a three-year wage freeze.

Regional officer Kevin Hall said: “Unite has consistently said that AFS was capable of making an offer more likely to meet members’ expectations.

“Following the assistance of Acas (the conciliation service) an improved offer was made.

“Members will now be given the time to consider and vote on the new offer.”

AFS is yet to release a fresh statement.

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