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Sun 27 Nov 2011 10:58 AM

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Gulf carriers urge UK-bound travellers to switch flights

Looming UK border staff strikes likely to spur 12-hour delays for passengers

Gulf carriers urge UK-bound travellers to switch flights
Passengers queue amid delays at Europes busiest airport, Heathrow

Gulf
carriers have urged passengers travelling to London and other UK airports this
week to switch their travel plans in a bid to avoid delays caused by a planned
24-hour strike at the UK border.

Up to
18,000 passport and immigration staff are expected to strike on Wednesday in
protest of changes made to their pensions, which airports have said could leave
travellers facing up to 12-hour queues for immigration. 

Dubai-based
Emirates Airline in a notice to passengers on its website warned flights to and
from the UK on Nov 30 may be “disrupted or forced to be cancelled”. The carrier
said it strongly encouraged passengers to consider travelling on alternative
days.

UAE flag
carrier Etihad said its flights to London Heathrow and Manchester would be
operating as scheduled but said passengers may experience “long delays in
waiting to clear immigration at both airports on this day”.

Qatar
Airways urged passengers traveling on the day of the strikes to contact its
reservation office or local travel agent for rebooking options. “The airline is
offering rebooking options for passengers holding confirmed reservations for
travel on November 30 on any of the affected flights arriving into London
Heathrow or Manchester,” said a statement on its website.

Thousands
of immigration officials are expected to join union staff representing
teachers, health workers and civil services on Nov 30, which unions say will be
the biggest union protest since the “Winter of Discontent” in 1979. Unions are
opposing moves to make government employees retire later and contribute move
towards their pensions.

Passengers
arriving at Heathrow, Europe’s busiest airport, will have to wait up to 12
hours to clear immigration if the planned strike goes ahead.

“Modelling
of the impacts of strike action on passenger flows show that there are likely
to be very long delays of up to 12 hours to arriving passengers,” Normand
Boivin, COO at Heathrow, said in a letter posted on the airport’s website.

Carriers
flying into the airport were also requested to reduce passenger loads. “We will
plan for normal flight schedule but are requesting all carriers to reduce load
factors on each international flight arriving into Heathrow on Nov 30 to 50
percent of normal levels,” said the letter.

Border
security in the UK is a particularly sensitive issue at the moment following an
admission by the government this month that it did not how many suspected
terrorists had entered the country after officials relaxed immigration checks
in a bid to shorten queues.

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