How to navigate London amid transport strikes and airport disruptions

Britain’s biggest rail strike in 30 years began on Tuesday, with an estimated 40,000 rail staff taking part in the protest. Industrial action — prompted by a long-running dispute over salary, job security and redundancies — is scheduled for another two days this week, leading London‘s transport authority to warn against travel in the capital on strike days.

Transport for London (TfL) said many stations will close on days of strike action and is warning of “severe disruption” against the city’s entire public transport system. 

What dates are the strikes taking place?

The first day of strikes took place on Tuesday but two more are scheduled for this week: Thursday, June 23 and Saturday, June 25.

A board displays travel service information at Euston Square Station in London © PA Images / Getty Images

What lines are affected?

Not all rail operators are taking part in the strike, however all public transport in Britain will be impacted, even buses and trams, as they take on additional passengers who can’t access cancelled or reduced rail services. Half of railways nationwide are expected to shut down on Thursday and Saturday.

In London, the strikes are affecting the new Elizabeth line, London Overground services and some Tube services, both on strike days and until mid-morning the days after the strikes.

Even though the strike isn’t taking place on Wednesday, according to the BBC, only 60% of trains are running in Britain today. TfL’s latest updates note that passengers in London can currently expect severe delays on the Piccadilly, Metropolitan, Circle, Hammersmith and City, and District Tube lines. The London Overground is operating at reduced service with parts of the line suspended. 

Tips for travelers in London

In London, the Overground services will run a reduced service between 7:30 am and 6 pm on Thursday and Saturday, the days of the strikes. Passengers are advised to expect continued disruption until at least mid-morning on Friday and Sunday across all services.

How to get around London

If you do need to travel, expect severe disruption across the rest of the week and allow plenty of extra time to get from A to B. TfL is encouraging people to walk or cycle if possible.

Passengers arrive in London’s King Cross station on Wednesday as rail services continue to be impacted by strike action © PA Images / Getty Images

How will this impact travelers using London airports?

Airports in the UK are already struggling with increased demand and staff shortages during high season, with the situation reaching crisis point on Monday when many passengers were left stranded in London’s Heathrow after dozens of flights were cancelled. Naturally, the ongoing strike will compound the issue.

People are advised to take alternative transport to airports if possible. National Express buses operate to some airports but services are already overwhelmed with thousands of people already booked onto buses for Glastonbury Festival which takes place this week.

Heathrow Airport

In London, the Heathrow Express — the direct line that takes passengers between London Paddington and Heathrow Airport — is expected to run every 30 minutes on strike days, rather than four times every hour. A final train departing for Heathrow Airport is expected at 6:10 pm from London.

“Due to a planned rail strike, Heathrow Express services will be significantly affected between 21st and 25th June, please allow additional time when traveling on these days. Customers who have already purchased tickets on strike days can claim a full refund or amend their ticket if required,” Heathrow Express officials said.

Gatwick Airport

The Gatwick Express train is not running on strike days.

Stansted Airport

The Stansted Express train is running a reduced service on strike days. The first train from the airport to London is at 7:42 am on Thursday and the last is at 4:42 pm, with only one train per hour. On Sunday, the first train is at 7:42 am and the last is at 5:12 pm, with two trains running every hour.

The service from London to Stansted Airport will see the first train run at 8:40 am and the last at 5:40 pm on Thursday, with one train per hour. The first train on Saturday is at 8:10 am and the last is at 5:40 pm, with one train every hour.

Passengers are advised to take alternative transport on the days of industrial action, with Stansted Express offering refunds to those who decide not to take a train due to cancelled, delayed or rescheduled services due to the strike.

London City Airport

The DLR line will operate to London City Airport with some station closures on strike days. 

Why are Britain’s rail workers striking?

Two separate strikes are taking place: a nationwide strike from Network Rail and a separate strike from TfL staff; the first time both groups have striked since 1989.

Workers from the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union voted to strike after talks failed with Network Rail bosses over years-long pay freezes and proposed job cuts, with RMT estimating that as many as 2500 jobs are at risk.

In London, the RMT said the Tube strike was over a “separate dispute over pensions and job losses”. 

RMT General Secretary Mike Lynch said of the action: “We have a cost-of-living crisis, and it is unacceptable for railway workers to either lose their jobs or face another year of a pay freeze.”

In a statement, he added: “RMT members are leading the way for all workers in this country who are sick and tired of having their pay and conditions slashed by a mixture of big business profits and government policy.”

Strike action will impact other aspects of travel in Europe this summer, with airline staff in Italy, Spain, France, and Portugal planning strike action in July. In Belgium, a cost of living strike is taking place this week.

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