As the Home Office warns travellers to prepare for disruption at the border next week – when more than 1,000 Border Force staff will strike at ports in England and France – holidaymakers are beginning to set off on the first February half term since Covid travel restrictions were lifted.
Abta, the Travel Association, says that many of its travel agent and tour operator members have reported record-breaking sales in January for holidays in 2023. Fifteen per cent of travellers heading abroad this year will do so during February half term.
While flight departures remain around 20 per cent down on the same period in 2019, aviation analytics firm Cirium calculates that 15,455 flights – more than 2.7m seats – are scheduled to depart UK airports between 13-19 February, a 44 per cent increase year-on-year.
Popular holiday destinations include the Canary Islands and mainland Spain, Portugal and Malta, as well as Dubai, Florida, Mexico and the Caribbean further afield and ski resorts in France, Italy and Switzerland. According to Cirium data, Heathrow will see the largest number of flight departures – more than 4,000 – while easyJet will be the largest airline with 3,126 departures from the UK.
However, industrial action will affect many travellers heading into Europe by air and overland. On Saturday 11 February, mass mobilisation of union workers will see disruption across France and its public transport networks. After suspending ticket sales for 11 February, Eurostar has since put them back on sale and said it plans to run a normal timetable on Saturday.
Further disruption will affect travellers from France to the UK when the Border Force strike begins. Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) union members working for Border Force will walk out between 17-20 February at the ports of Dover, Calais, Coquelles (Eurotunnel Calais terminal) and Dunkirk. The Home Office has advised passengers to “check with their travel provider and prepare for longer waits at passport control.”
Previous industrial action by Border Force staff at six UK airports in December and January caused minimal disruption for passengers, but Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, has cautioned: “while the Government brought untrained military personnel in to replace our highly-skilled and experienced officers in airports over Christmas, they won’t be able to do that in France.” E-gates are also not available at French ports.
So far, ferry operators have offered little detail on Border Force strike date services, but Irish Ferries – which has 10 Calais-Dover services scheduled on Saturday 18 February – has said that it will transfer delayed passengers to the next available departure when possible. P&O Ferries has 13 scheduled Calais-Dover sailings on 18 February while DFDS has 16 services from Calais and Dunkirk to Dover that day.
Further disruption is expected in Spain on Monday. Jet2 has warned customers that its “flights operating to Alicante, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote (Arrecife) may be delayed” as a result of ongoing air traffic control strikes on Monday 13 February. Other airports likely to be affected include Ibiza, Jerez, Murcia, Seville and Valencia. However, minimum service levels are a legal requirement during industrial action in Spain.