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My Experience Flying During Heathrow T5’s Departures Strikes (April 2023)

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Easter is coming, and I hope that’s good news to all of you! Today I used Heathrow’s Terminal 5 at (supposedly) the peak of Heathrow’s Easter strikes, catalysed by a failed negotation between the Unite union and airport management. I’ve seen quite a few sources stating what to expect, though I haven’t really heard from any firsthand experiences of what it was like at the airport. These strikes last until April 9th, so if you’re departing out of Heathrow Terminal 5 during this time, you’d be affected (transit passengers aren’t, albeit also needing to undergo security procedures).

Well, I just had the opportunity to navigate through Heathrow Airport today, so I thought I’d write back on how the experience was. Do note that I got to the airport at 9 AM for an 11 AM flight, which isn’t one of the airport’s busier periods, so I can’t report on what it’s like during the morning or early evening rush.

people in an airport
Heathrow Terminal 5 Check-in

It does look like only T5’s departures hall is affected by the strikes, though unfortunately that’s exactly where I was departing out of today. If you’re looking to see what the airport is like during the remainder of Heathrow’s strike period,

My Experience Travelling Through Heathrow Airport on a Strike Day

Six days before my flight I received an email from British Airways, which read as follows:

a screenshot of a message

Airlines don’t tend to line your expectations for long wait times unless things get really bad, so I was expecting the worst.

Thankfully that wasn’t the case. I hate to compliment Heathrow (it’s not fun to travel through in a number of ways, especially on arrival), though departing from any Heathrow terminal is relatively painless, in my experience. Fast track was open, and while the standard lines did stretch for what looked like an approximately 30-35 minute wait by 10 AM, it didn’t feel much longer than the usual line at Terminal 5.

people standing in a terminal
Heathrow Terminal 5 Security

I was travelling in a premium cabin, and that wait took all of 10 minutes. It did feel like it took slightly longer to screen each passenger, but I wouldn’t have noticed anything if I wasn’t actively looking out for consequences of the strike.

a large room with many people sitting and plants
British Airways North Galleries Lounge Heathrow T5

Help! My Flight Is Cancelled

In order for the terminal to look as it did, British Airways did have to cancel 320 flights throughout the course of Easter, which has wreaked havoc on some families’ Easter travel plans. If that’s you, I’m sorry – unfortunately calling British Airways will be an absolute pain, and I’d imagine hold times will last several hours. You can request a refund or rebook your flight online (my flight wasn’t cancelled, so I’m not sure how easy the process is). If none of the rebooking options work for you, I’d recommend requesting a refund and rebooking out of a different airport if you find any better options, over using a call center agent.

If needed, I’m happy to report that the departures hall doesn’t feel overcrowded at this time, and I’m sure British Airways staff at Heathrow Airport will be more willing to help than call center agents.

What You Should Expect Travelling Through Heathrow T5

British Airways is asking that longhaul travelers arrive three hours before departure and shorthaul travelers two hours before departure, and a maximum of two cabin bags would be allowed onboard the aircraft during strike action. Neither seemed to be actively monitored (at least at 9 AM), though cabin bag space is very restricted at the moment especially on shorthaul flights anyway, so I wouldn’t consider strike action to have a massive effect on a flight departing out of Terminal 5.

I travelled shortly after school holidays broke for Easter (to meet my parents and sister in Italy) and my flight was full to the brim, though admittedly 9 AM isn’t one of Heathrow’s peak hours. I’d still get to the airport exactly when British Airways tells you to, and expect about 1-1.5 hours of wait times if you don’t have access to fast track security. However, I wouldn’t expect security lines to go out of the departures hall – correct me if I’m wrong, and I’ll update the post ASAP.

What was your experience flying through Heathrow T5 during strike action?

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