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Where you stand if the UK Border Agency walkout affects your travel plans

This Wednesday (30th November), thousands of UK Border Agency (UKBA) staff will be absent from the UK’s ports and airports as part of a nationwide public sector strike. With 60,000 travellers passing through immigration each day at Heathrow alone, it’s hard to overstate the scale of disruption that looks set to be caused. What happens if you are affected? Can you seek compensation? What’s covered by your travel insurance?

Here’s some help and advice.

12 hour delays in arrival terminals.

As you’d expect, the Border Agency walkout is anticipated to hit the UK’s busiest airports hardest. Heathrow Airport’s chief operating officer, Normand Boivin, has warned of delays of up to 12 hours in their arrival terminals. Gatwick is also bracing for long delays. But that’s not the only problem.

Inbound passengers may not be the only ones affected.

The fear is that the delays processing inbound passengers will lead to arrival terminals swelling to capacity, forcing airlines to hold arriving passengers on their planes. That in turn would cause airport gridlock, with mass cancellations of departing aircraft and diversions for other inbound flights. This combined pressure on all areas of the UK’s airports means that even outbound travellers from the UK could find themselves affected by the UK Border Agency’s walkout. Inbound flights to the UK from across the world all risk being delayed, cancelled or rerouted.

Can you be flexible on your arrival date into the UK?

If you have the opportunity to be flexible with your time, you might be able to dodge the delays. Major airlines have been asked to halve the capacity of their flights into Heathrow in an attempt to avoid gridlock. As a result, most airlines – including Virgin Airlines and British Airways – are giving customers the chance to shift their flight date either back or forward two or three days at no extra cost.

Different airlines and airports have different plans. If in doubt, contact them.

It’s worth noting that contingency plans for the UKBA strike differ with airline and airport. easyJet, who operate over 70 international flights into Gatwick each day, are not running any rebooking programme and claim they will be operating flights as normal. That means you would have to pay the full fare if you wanted to arrange an alternative ticket to avoid the delays. If you are in any doubt as to how your airport and airline are preparing for the UKBA strike, call them. They’ll be able to give you up-to-the-minute information.

Compensation for delays at the airport.

Whether you are delayed in arrivals or the departure lounge, you should be able to claim compensation from your travel insurer for delays caused by the UKBA strike – depending on the type of policy you have. A quick run through the policy documents issued when you purchased your policy should help you know where you stand. If you have a policy with us at World First, we’ll give you a cash benefit for any delay of twelve hours or more – usually £20 for the first 12 hours and £10 per 12 hours thereafter.

Getting your money back if you decide to cancel your trip.

Sometimes, a major delay might cause you to rethink your holiday altogether – especially if you had only planned a short break. That’s your decision and we’ve got you covered, either way. So if the UKBA walkout causes you to be delayed by 24 hours or more, you can cancel your holiday and claim compensation for up to £3,000 worth of unrecoverable holiday costs. Refer to your policy schedule for full details. Other travel insurers also offer compensation for trip cancellation, though the specifics vary greatly. Again, the documents given to you when you purchased your policy should give you all the information you need.

What if the airport delays cause you to miss a subsequent leg of your journey?

If your flight into or out of the UK is a connecting flight, a delay at the airport could cause you to miss the next part of your journey – whether it’s by air, land or sea. All World First policies come with cover for missed departure of pre-booked travel as standard. This entitles you to compensation for any unexpected hotel costs and alternative travel costs incurred in reaching your final destination. Check your policy documents for the missed departure policy of other travel insurers.

Are you covered? The date you purchased your policy is crucial.

The UKBA strikes were announced on 10th November 2011. All travel insurers will have an associated cut-off date up to which claims against the strikes will be valid. Basically, travellers cannot expect to be covered for the strikes once knowledge of them is in the public domain. This highlights the need to purchase travel insurance as soon as you have finalised the plans for your holiday, rather than waiting until just before you leave. At World First, our cut-off date for cover against the UKBA walkout is 09:00 am GMT on 10th November 2011.

If you have any questions please feel free to email us on or call us on 0845 90 80 161.

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