CNN Julia Buckley
Great Britain: home of traditions, cozy cottages and Christmas movies. What better place to spend the holidays than in a thatched cottage in “Vacation,” or have a romantic airport arrival lead to “True Love”?
This year could also be the perfect time for snow – normally mild Britain has seen snowfall even in the south of England. For the first time in years there is a white Christmas.
There’s just one problem: getting there. Because although it’s the first Christmas in the UK since 2019 without Covid-induced travel restrictions, whether it’s a viable destination for the month is another question.
Amid the political chaos — the country changed three prime ministers in seven weeks earlier in the autumn — Britain is experiencing industrial action on an unprecedented scale.
Almost every day of December called for a strike: nurses (their first strike), health workers, ambulance drivers, postal workers, driving examiners, bus drivers, rail workers, road workers, baggage handlers and Border Force.
The last five certainly affect travel.
“It’s really serious — it’s a big problem,” said Rhys Jones, an aviation expert at the travel website Go to Points.
“There is no formula for the combination or duration of the strikes.”
Workers at the Abellio bus group, which operates in London, will go on strike again on December 16-17 and December 24, 27 and 31.
Road workers will strike over the busiest Christmas holiday period of December 16-17, December 22-25, and then again across the country on December 30-31 and January 4-7 . Strike ‘has the potential to paralyze the road network’, The PCS Alliance behind says.
A series of strikes by railway workers across the country began on December 13. They will continue the strike on December 16-17, 24-29, and January 3-4 and 6-7.
Then there’s the biggest one: the Border Force, which controls immigration and checks passports when you enter the UK. Workers in the government sector will go on strike from December 23-26 and again from December 28-31.
Meanwhile, the UK is being battered by freezing weather, with roads crippled by snow, airports suddenly closed due to icy conditions and flights delayed and diverted.
There’s good news for travelers: Baggage handlers called off the strike a day before it was supposed to start on December 16.
“It’s an absolutely terrible situation if you don’t take precautions,” said James Turner, CEO 360 private tourA Virtuoso institution.
“If there was ever a time to plan for the worst, now is the time.”
It’s a toxic combination, experts say, of pandemic layoffs, a global cost-of-living crisis, and Britain’s high inflation (thanks in no small part to Prime Minister Liz Truss, who has only been in office for 45 days). Truss), and one that refused to offer concessions to workers.
This all means that holiday travel seems as uncertain as ever.
“I can’t remember a time like this in my life,” said Jo Rhodes, acting deputy editor of the consumer group which?travel.
“People who are traveling with family over the festive period can be affected and it can be really stressful, especially after years of being separated from loved ones. We don’t know how bad it’s going to be because we’ve never seen a situation on this scale before. industrial action.”
Two of her friends had planned a short holiday to the UK – one from Ireland and one from Belgium – but decided against it because of the strike.
“Living here every day, you don’t think it’s that serious, but it does feel like if you’re dependent on public transport, any plans you make are not guaranteed to continue,” she said.
What is the biggest hurdle for people coming from abroad? At the border, immigration officials will drop off tools at six major airports – Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff and Glasgow – as well as the port of Newhaven over the Christmas period.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman warned the strikes would cause “undeniable havoc” and urged everyone flying to reconsider holiday travel plans.
As a contingency measure, the government is deploying the military to manage immigration counters. Army personnel were at Heathrow Airport as early as December 10 to watch the border process and get ready.
“Military assistance to civilian authorities is a long-standing and established process that allows the professional capabilities of the UK Armed Forces to be brought to support civilian authorities in responding to domestic emergencies,” a Home Office spokesman said.
“Maintaining the security of the UK’s borders is our number one priority and the Border Force will never compromise on security.”
But travelers may need to make compromises in terms of timing and comfort.
While the government has advised airlines to cut flights by 30 per cent, no airline has done so yet, with only easyJet offering free rebookings to affected passengers.
“It could be very, very bad,” Rhys-Jones said. Delays getting through the border can lead to overcrowded terminals, meaning planes may be asked to keep passengers on board – which could also cause delays to departing flights. From then on, it’s been a snowball effect.
“The aviation industry works by being in the right place at the right time,” Jones said. “If the plane goes down, all of a sudden there’s a massive cyber crisis.” Worst case? “A chain reaction of days.”
Jones correctly predicted that the baggage handlers strike would be called off at the last minute, which he did not think would be a “total disaster”, but predicted delays. So far, airlines have not canceled flights, and anyone with a biometric passport can use the electronic gate. “The main bottleneck will be where you have to go and see the officers,” he said.
So what to do if you’re booked to fly in over Christmas?
“If you have the flexibility and can afford it, changing your flight means you’re taking less risk,” he said. “That said, if the airline hasn’t canceled the flight, I’m going to stick with it.”
Jones will fly out of the UK himself on December 28. “I just want to see what happens,” he said. “I expect there will be delays, but not a total collapse.”
Rhodes’ advice is to allow enough time to get to the airport and not rely on public transport to get there. Travel insurance that covers delays or missed flights due to long lines is also on her Christmas list.
(not) riding on rails
With the popularity of train travel, and the excellent rail network in the UK, you’d think it would be a great time to travel by train.
but not. The rail strikes are so severe they are estimated to cost the hotel industry around £1.5bn ($1.8bn) in lost revenue as people stay at home. UK Hospitality CEO, Kate Nichols. This is the same financial impact as the arrival of the omicron variant last December.
“This is the worst state of the railroads I’ve covered in 30 years,” he said Christian Walmartrailroad analyst and author of several books on trains.
Things were worse in 2000, he reckons, when a crash outside London killed four people and injured more than 70, with a rail system woefully lacking in maintenance and accountability after it was privatized in 1993.
He said rail strikes in the UK were not uncommon, but the current “state of chaos” was an exception.
“It’s not just strikes – the fact is that the railways are shrinking with less funding and they’re in disarray. They’re going to restructure, but that doesn’t seem to be happening right now. Plans are up in the air and we have three transport ministers [government ministers] within three months. The strike has lasted far longer and more disruptively than expected, with no end in sight. “
‘Government has fought’
Walmart has accused politicians of conflating regular salary negotiations with structural decisions about cost cutting, maintenance and staffing. “The government can address this problem if it takes a more optimistic view of what can be achieved, rather than conflating productivity-enhancing deals with addressing wage increases,” he said.
“It mixes a lot of [cost-cutting] need. It doesn’t need to be this complicated – negotiating wage increases, a cost of living crisis, and inflation. They are happy with 5-6%. UK inflation hit a 41-year high of 11.1% in October. Workers get 5% pay in the first year and 4% in the second, and are guaranteed no mandatory redundancies until 2025. The union for TSSA accepted the terms on Dec. 15. RMT, the country’s largest transport union, has not backed down, however.
Unions say strikes could continue on and off for months after government refuses to deny Cancel a last minute deal before strike action begins.
“Rail can only be changed incrementally and it needs to be done through negotiations,” Wolmar said. “The damage is that people have put off using the railway and it will take some time to fix it. The railway is such an important part of the infrastructure and the government acts like it really doesn’t matter and we can strike. The truth is, you can’t. Recognizing that the railway is very important is Critical.”
A spokesman for the Department of Transport said TSSA accepted the proposal “to the relief of the public”.
It added: “The tide is turning and it is clear to everyone that this proposal is fair and reasonable, bringing better wages to workers while also bringing important reforms to our railroads.”
Ian Griffin, CEO seat frogwhich allows users to bid for price-cut upgrades on trains, said the fallout from the strike was “unprecedented — definitely the worst of my life.”
“Ultimately, it’s scary for the industry — our recent research shows that people are getting into cars because of it,” he added.
“We see governments across Europe investing in rail, the only form of transport that will meet our 2030 targets [climate] target, but it has been stymied in Britain because the government, unions and train companies have not sat around to solve the problem. If we want to win this victory for the planet and the economy, we need to keep going. “
‘here we go again’
Will all this affect the UK’s reputation as a tourist destination?after all that is Just recovered from the Covid chaos The chaos of the United States and Brexit has made it difficult to compete with other less problematic destinations.
“There’s definitely knowledge of that,” said Turner, who works with clients from all over the world. He has hundreds of clients visiting the UK this month and his team is working overtime to develop contingency plans.
“It’s an ‘oh no, here we go again’ sigh — we don’t need this kind of news to encourage people to travel,” he said.
“I’m sure there won’t be any lasting effects, but in the short term it’s clearly a negative impression.”
Kate Nichols agrees it’s already changing habits. “Especially the European tourists who came over on the weekend, they changed their minds and they won’t come,” she said. “It feels like the whole transport system is creaking and it’s affecting the confidence of international consumers that they’re coming to get around the UK. We need to send the message that the UK is still open for business – it may take longer It takes a lot to get around, but it works.”
After a devastating few years for inbound tourism – with visitor arrivals down 82% in 2021 compared to pre-pandemic numbers – water companies have caused an uproar this summer Discharge untreated sewage onto beaches — perhaps “functionality” is the best the UK can hope for.
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