Security guards are downing their baggage-checking duties after refusing to accept a real terms pay cut, the union says.
Ten days of strike action by security staff at Heathrow Airport started today.
More than 1,400 Security guards at the UK's busiest airport are walking out over the Easter holidays after last-minute attempts to resolve a pay dispute failed.
Workers at Terminal 5, the main portal for British Airways, will be walking out from 31 March to 9 April.
British Airways has already cancelled more than 70 flights on the first day of strikes to reduce the number of passengers using the terminal. In total, more than 300 flights will be cancelled during the busy period.
Other airlines flying out of Heathrow may also be impacted.
Why are Heathrow security guards going on strike?
The strike is the outcome of a ballot by Unite workers, who last week voted to reject the airport’s offer of a 10 per cent pay increase. After years of pay freezes and pay cuts, and with RPI inflation at 13.4 per cent, the union argues that accepting the proposal would deliver a real terms pay cut.
Unite union secretary general Sharon Graham says Heathrow workers are on "poverty wages while the chief executive and senior managers enjoy huge salaries".
She adds that Unite members are "simply unable to make ends meet due to the low wages" and they are striking "due to need not greed".
The airport contests this necessity, saying the wage proposal it has made is fair, and that “threatening to ruin people’s hard-earned holidays with strike action will not improve the deal.”
A security guard at Heathrow is paid as little as £24,000 (€27,400) a year, according to the union.
Heathrow Airports Limited (HAL) has hit back that its staff are paid at least the London Living Wage, while the starting salary for a security officer would be £27,754 (€31,700) if its 10 per cent offer is accepted. It is urging Unite to come back to the negotiating table.
How will Easter flights from Heathrow be impacted?
British Airways said they "regret" the "small number of adjustments" that they have had to make to their schedule due to "a number of issues" including the security strikes and French Air Traffic Control action.
It has already cancelled 72 flights on the first day of strikes affecting an estimated 10,000 passengers.
"We've apologised to customers whose travel plans have been affected and have offered them a range of options, including rebooking onto a new flight with us or another airline, or requesting a full refund," a spokesperson said.
The union warned travellers about the potential of long queues.
“Strike action will cause huge disruption and delays at Heathrow throughout Easter,” claims Unite regional coordinating officer Wayne King.
"The strike action will undoubtedly result in severe delays and disruption to passengers across the airport but this dispute is a direct result of Heathrow Airport's stubborn refusal to pay its workers fairly," the union warned.
But Heathrow says contingency plans will be in place to ensure the airport stays open. It claims the airport is "operating as normal" on the first day of strikes.
In a statement, Heathrow reassured passengers that the airport will be "open and operational despite unnecessary threats of strike action by Unite". A total of 1,000 extra staff have been brought in to prevent disruption.
The security guards taking action include those responsible for checking all cargo that enters the airport. So it’s likely that Heathrow will need to move resources from other areas.
It could mean that queues are longer than normal, making it advisable to get to the airport in plenty of time.
Passport Office workers are going on strike over Easter too
Another UK strike could impact Easter travel too, and it threatens to have an even longer-lasting impact.
Earlier this month, 1,000 Passport Office workers announced they will be going on strike for five weeks next month.
Members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union working across England, Scotland and Wales will walk out from 3 April to 5 May, followed by Belfast workers from 7 April to 5 May.
The industrial action is down to a dispute over jobs, pay and conditions, and is timed to cause mass disruption.
It has raised fears that some people’s passports will not be processed in time for their summer holidays.
According to travel expert Simon Calder, at peak times - including April - the Passport Office receives up to 250,000 applications per week. Totted up, that means that more than one million applications could be sent during the strike period.
The Home Office said it was disappointed with PCS's decision to walk out, the BBC reports. It added that the strike does not affect its guidance, which is still to allow up to 10 weeks to get a passport. Preparations are underway to meet demand.