Heathrow Airport disruption marks start of biggest bank holiday rush since 2019

As millions of families begin half-term week, and many others start bank holiday weekend getaways, travel within and deaprting from the UK is looking tumultuous.

The AA has said that 17 million drivers will take to the roads, while British Airways has cancelled 60 more flights to and from London Heathrow.

Even allowing for the cancelled flights, which are due to an IT issue, Friday is expected to be the busiest day for flying from the UK since before the Covid pandemic.

More than 3,000 flight departures are expected, carrying an estimated half-million passengers

By noon on Friday, the number of “on-the-day” cancellations of British Airways short-haul flights to and from Heathrow had increased to 60.

BA grounded multiple departures to and from key holiday destinations, including four flights between Heathrow and Athens and six to and from Nice.

Geneva and Milan also had six cancellations each. Edinburgh passengers have seen a dozen flights to and from Heathrow grounded in the past 24 hours.

BA must buy tickets on rival airlines for disrupted passengers to get them to their destinations on the same day as originally booked, if space is available. But at the start of the half-term week for many schools and the bank holiday weekend, few spare seats are available.

The BA cancellations are not on the scale of the late May bank holiday 2017, when another IT failure led to all the airline’s operations at Heathrow and Gatwick being grounded. But the cost in lost revenue, hotel costs and passenger compensation will run into many millions of pounds.

Partly as a result of the British Airways cancellations, day two of a strike by security staff at Terminal 5, BA’s main base, is having little effect.

At other leading airports, journeys are proving smooth – with the main issue at Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow being cancellations of BA flights to and from Heathrow.

Staff working at Edinburgh airport have voted strongly in favour of a strike over pay, but no industrial action has yet been called.

The Unite union clearly expects the airport bosses to come back with an improved offer – but warns of “travel chaos” in the summer if a walk-out goes ahead. The airport says it has already made a “fair and generous” pay proposal.

At Dover, where the first weekend of the Easter school holidays was marked by long delays for coaches travelling to France, contingency plans appear to be working. Coaches are being marshalled away from the main port, but once they reach the French border checks processing is swift.

The port says that private cars are facing a wait of an hour for passport checks. After Brexit a hard EU border was imposed in the port, with all British travellers required to have their passport inspected and stamped.

Truck traffic is being controlled to limit delays for tourists.

With fine weather predicted, the RAC is telling motorists to prepare for “the busiest late May bank holiday since 2019”.

According to the traffic analyst Inrix, there could be severe delays on key routes.

  • On Friday, the busiest times are expected to be 11am-2pm, with the M5 between Bristol and Taunton likely to see particularly heavy traffic.
  • On Saturday, Sunday and bank holiday Monday, roads will be busiest between 2pm and 7pm. The M25 will be under pressure, especially anticlockwise from junction 4 to the Dartford Crossing.
  • The M6 in Cheshire and Lancashire is predicted to be busy on Sunday afternoon.

The latest round of national rail strikes will blight the second half of the half-term week.

From Wednesday 31 May to Saturday 3 June, train drivers belonging to Aslef and other rail workers belonging to the RMT and working for more than one dozen train operators will walk out again in their long and bitter dispute over pay and working arrangements.

Both unions say strikes could continue through the summer.

Transport for Wales and Scotrail services are unaffected.

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