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Mitigating Border Patrol Staff Strikes at Heathrow Airport

LeighFisher assessed the impact of the Immigration Services Union strike action at the UK’s largest border
LeighFisher assessed the impact of the Immigration Services Union strike action at the UK’s largest border

Location: London, UK

Heathrow Airport is one of the largest border facilities in the UK, with up to 120,000 passengers arriving daily. The Immigration Services Union, a body representing the majority of the UK's border patrol staff, announced a 24-hour strike to take place in November 2011.

To determine how the airport would be affected by the strike, LeighFisher’s team of modeling experts conducted simulations of each terminal considering a skeleton level of immigration staff and anticipated passenger numbers.  The simulation considered expected flight arrival times, passenger movement from the aircraft to the immigration hall, and passenger passport types.  Modeling using CASTTM (Comprehensive Airport Simulation Technology) software found that up to 12-hour queues could be expected.  This situation would have brought Heathrow to gridlock, as severe levels of overcrowding in the immigration hall would require that passengers be held onboard aircraft.  As is well known, Heathrow operates close to operational capacity and is only able to do so with rigorous efficiency and coordination.  The cumulative effects of aircraft parking positions being occupied for longer periods of time would prevent aircraft from landing on an already congested airfield and lead to the diversion of flights outside the UK.

With LeighFisher’s expertise, Heathrow understood the severity of the situation and successfully avoided the predicted gridlock by taking action to reduce passenger numbers and increase immigration resourcing.  A letter was issued to all airlines operating at Heathrow, urging them to take action to reduce passenger numbers by 50% during the strike.  The expected delay was widely reported across the press and prompted the government to mobilize civil servants and staff from the British government to patrol the border.

More trust was put into modeling on the strike day itself.  Heathrow staff and LeighFisher primarily tasked with long-term terminal planning and forecasting were brought together for the first time to provide live predictions of immigration queue times and advised the relevant crisis command teams on immigration resourcing across terminals and whether flight diversion would be necessary.  Consequent to this successful outcome, following further strikes in May 2012, Heathrow initiated exploring IT systems to automate this predictive process by tracking flight arrivals and pairing it with live immigration resourcing to provide live information tracking.

Key Highlights: 
  • Assessment of delays showed 12-hour queues could be expected
  • Airport, airlines, and government agencies prompted into taking action
Services Include: 
Simulation modeling
Terminal planning

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