Summer Strikes at Europe’s Airports: What You Need to Know

Heathrow’s security officers plan to strike on numerous summer weekends, and Italy’s air traffic controllers and public transit workers have scheduled walkouts. Here’s how strikes could affect upcoming Europe travel plans.

Person sitting at gate with view of British Airways planes out the window

Travelers flying through London Heathrow Airport this summer should be aware that security officers are planning 29 days of strikes—most during weekends.

Photo by Tomek Baginski/Unsplash

After a series of disruptive worker strikes that took place throughout Europe this spring, including massive pension protests across France, additional walkouts are already being planned for the coming days and weeks just in time to potentially upend the busy summer travel season.

“We do need to keep an eye on Europe where strike action caused significant disruptions earlier this year,” Nick Careen, senior vice president of operations, safety and security for the International Air Transport Association (IATA), said in a May statement about what we can expect for the peak summer travel season. According to the industry group, governments should have contingency plans in place so that they can maintain minimum service levels during strike actions and so that walkouts don’t disrupt travel.

The ongoing strike actions come as the number of international travelers is expected to meet and possibly exceed prepandemic levels this summer. IATA reported that international air travel bookings for the busiest travel months of the year, May through September, are pacing at 29 percent above 2022 levels.

They also come amid growing concerns that the throngs of fliers heading into the skies this summer could once again overwhelm airlines and airports, leading to a repeat of some of the air travel horror stories of summer 2022, including canceled and delayed flights and mountains of lost luggage.

“While some disruptions can be expected, there is a clear expectation that the ramping-up issues faced at some key hub airports in 2022 will have been resolved,” Careen stated.

Here are the proposed strikes in Europe that will affect travel and when they will take place.

London Heathrow Airport security staff to strike for 29 days this summer

Unite the Union, which represents security officers at London Heathrow Airport (LHR), announced earlier this month that it will be conducting 31 days of strikes at London’s main international hub throughout the summer months—but the union has already canceled the first two days of strikes, June 24 and 25.

“Following extensive talks with the workers’ union Unite last week, an improved pay offer was made by HAL [Heathrow Airport Limited, the company that operates London Heathrow Airport] and, as a gesture of goodwill by the union, the initial strikes were called off,” the union said in a statement.

The security officers union announced the action as part of what it called “a major escalation of its dispute with Heathrow Airport Limited over low pay.”

“For the first time security officers based at Terminal Three, who voted for strike action last week, will join their colleagues from Terminal Five and campus security on the picket line. Campus security are responsible for checking all personnel and vehicles going airside,” the union said in a statement.

“If the latest offer is rejected by members then the remaining 29 days of strike action spread across the summer, beginning before the end of this month, will go ahead as planned,” the union stated.

If the strikes go forward, more than 2,000 security officers are expected to participate, and “delays, disruption and cancellations [at London Heathrow] will be inevitable as a result,” warned Unite regional coordinating officer Wayne King.

These are the London Heathrow security officer strike dates (many of which take place during weekends):

  • June 28–30
  • July 14–16
  • July 21–24
  • July 28–31
  • August 4–7
  • August 11–14
  • August 18–20
  • August 24–27

Security risk and crisis management firm Crisis24 noted that “unless averted, the action may disrupt airport operations and flight schedules at LHR, including possible delays and cancellations.” The firm added that “airport authorities have stated that contingency plans are in place and flights should operate as normal.”

During previous security officer strikes, Heathrow remained open and operational.

Travelers should, however, expect to experience some longer lines and wait times at the hub during the strikes.

Air traffic controller and public transit strikes in Italy

Italy’s air transport workers have already walked out several times this year, including on May 19 and June 4. During the May 19 strikes, which were across Italy’s aviation sector, the national carrier ITA Airways operated nearly 70 percent of flights and rebooked the others.

Employees with Italy’s main air traffic control operator, ENAV, are now planning to strike again on Monday, June 19, and Tuesday, June 20 (the same day there will be a baggage handling strike), as well as on Saturday, July 15, Italian news media report.

Not to be outdone, Italy’s Faisa-Confail union, which represents bus, tram, and subway transport workers, has already called for several strikes this year as well, travel security and risk management firm Crisis24 reports.

The next public transit strike in Italy is scheduled to take place starting at midnight on Thursday, July 6 until the first early-morning transport services on Friday, July 7, then again from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and 8 p.m. to midnight on July 7, according to Euronews. (There will be minimum service provided between those windows.) “Everything from trains to ferries and metro services is likely to face delays and disruption due to the walkouts,” the European news network reports.

During Italy’s public transit strikes, travelers should “plan for delays and temporary disruptions to services and increased congestion on alternative available forms of public transport,” notes Crisis24.

Air traffic controller and public transit strikes in France

Demonstrations and strikes have been occurring throughout France since the start of the year as French citizens protest the country’s recent pension reforms. The most recent round of protests took place on June 6. Air traffic controllers joined the strike actions on June 6. As a result, the French Civil Aviation Authority asked all airlines to reduce their flight schedules to and from Paris–Orly airport and several other French airports during the walkout.

During air traffic controller strikes, Air France continues to operate all long-haul flights, all flights to and from Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, and about 70 percent of flights between Paris–Orly and other French airports. The carrier typically offers passengers who experience a flight cancellation due to strike activity the option to obtain either a future flight credit or a full refund, according to previous statements issued by Air France.

During strike actions, “last-minute delays and cancellations cannot be ruled out,” Air France has said in the past.

Another round of air traffic controller strikes has not yet been announced or scheduled, but travelers shouldn’t rule it out.

In addition to air traffic controller strikes, national worker strikes that have been held throughout the year as part of the larger pension reform demonstrations can affect services such as public transport systems (including rail and subway operations). The ongoing protests in France can also create traffic and transportation congestion and service interruptions in and around major cities, including potential delays in travel between downtown and the main Paris airports, Charles de Gaulle and Orly.

Possible airport and public transit strikes in Germany

Since last year, Germany has been grappling with a series of on-and-off strikes at the country’s air hubs that have continuously disrupted air travel.

The latest took place at the end of April at the Berlin Brandenburg Airport, where airport employees and personnel went on strike, forcing the airport to cancel all passenger flight departures, the Associated Press reported. It was the third walkout at the Berlin airport this year as workers try to negotiate better pay.

Transportation workers have also been staging walkouts in Germany, making it a period of ongoing uncertainty for visitors traveling to and through the country.

What travelers can do if their flight in Europe is canceled or delayed

It’s important to note that while the European Union’s consumer protection regulation, known as Regulation EC No 261/2004, provides compensation to passengers flying to, from, and within Europe for canceled and delayed flights, worker strikes are considered “extraordinary circumstances” that do not require the airlines to provide compensation.

Travelers heading to Europe this summer may want to consider investing in travel insurance that covers trip disruptions and delays—something that may already be included in your credit coverage plan if the trip was booked using a travel credit card. This is also a good time to look into the option of adding Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) coverage to your travel insurance plan. Some travel insurance policies will not cover known events—for instance, a strike with set dates—but CFAR coverage will. Having travel insurance can help offset any costs you might incur should you have to rebook your flight or spend time in a hotel due to a cancellation or delay.

Given the ongoing worker strike climate in Europe right now, travelers really need to stay on top of the situation by monitoring the news, so that they can be proactive about changing their flight in advance if need be, or making any necessary arrangements for possible delays or disruptions. Airlines and airports typically post information on their websites as soon as they are aware of any worker strikes that could disrupt operations.

This story was originally published on June 8, 2023, and has been updated to include current information.

Michelle Baran is a deputy editor at AFAR where she oversees breaking news, travel intel, airline, cruise, and consumer travel news. Baran joined AFAR in August 2018 after an 11-year run as a senior editor and reporter at leading travel industry newspaper Travel Weekly.
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