Heathrow: The shut-down that wasn’t

It wasn’t the Heathrow shut-down of the decade, that’s for sure.

As widely reported, there was a public sector strike yesterday in the United Kingdom. The biggest fear within the travel industry and media was that London’s Heathrow Airport would go into heavy-delay meltdown, but the anticipated chaos never materialized. In the Guardian, Robert Booth and Alan Travis reported yesterday that Heathrow remained calm and relaxed throughout the day, a result of a concerted effort on the part of UK authorities to encourage airlines to operate at lower capacity and to cancel a small number of flights.

Booth and Travis also site a BAA employee’s claim that the UK Border Agency partnered with authorities in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan to increase scrutiny of passengers bound for the UK as a pre-screening measure. Immigration agents at Heathrow were replaced by civil servants and police officers.

The one-day strike was prompted by pension reforms announced by the current government. These reforms, if enacted, will force public sector workers to contribute more of their income to their pensions and will also raise the retirement age. To add insult to injury, the strike came a day after the government announced that public sector workers would only see annual income increases of one percent through 2014, despite annual inflation rates of around five percent. Many institutions were affected by the strike. Most schools in the UK were closed yesterday, as were many other public offices.

Today is expected to be a more difficult day at Heathrow despite the return of Border Agency staff to work, given the passenger backlog from cancelled flights. Anxious passengers may have some of their questions answered by the airport authority’s FAQ.

[Image: Flickr | .curt.]