What to do if the rail strike means you can’t get to the airport for your holiday

The National Rail strike planned for 21st, 23rd and 25th June and the London Underground strike on 21st June are expected to cause major problems for anyone needing to travel in the UK – but travelers will be hit just as badly be trying to get there and from the airport by sunday. We have highlighted the biggest problem areas and have done our best to answer the top questions and offer some solutions.

What if I have trouble getting to the airport?

The biggest problem for those traveling abroad will be getting to and from London airports as such a high proportion of passengers use rail and tube services to reach them. Some trains are expected to run between Stansted, Gatwick and Heathrow, but if strikes do occur services will be severely reduced and you will need to check hours and times before travelling.

The Stansted Express says that “current services only run from 7.30am, with the last trains completing their journey at 6.30pm. There will be two trains per hour (on Thursday, when the drivers are also on strike, one train per hour). There will be no services from the airport to Norwich and Cambridge.”

The Heathrow Express will operate from Paddington, but with services reduced to 30 minute intervals and only between 7.30am and 6.30pm. Heathrow will also be affected by the tube strike tomorrow (Tuesday 21st), meaning the options for getting to the airport from central London will be very limited. There are buses but they are probably very crowded. It’s also worth noting that no subway services operate before 8am on Wednesday.

The Gatwick Express does not run on the 21st, 23rd and 25th June but there are some options with other rail companies.

Airport buses are generally operational, but demand is extremely high and seats are likely to sell out. I couldn’t find any availability for tomorrow to Gatwick for example. National Express says it is “working hard to increase the availability of all our services where possible” but this is complicated by the fact that it has already committed to carrying over 30,000 passengers to Glastonbury this week.

What if I already bought a train ticket?

If you’ve bought a train ticket that you can’t use, some companies (e.g. Stansted Express) will allow you to use it on another day, but in all cases you can opt for a refund through the company’s website where you bought it.

What problems do the drivers have to the airport?

For many travelers, persuading a friend to drive you to the airport is the best option. You usually have to pay a delivery fee (e.g. £5-£6 in Manchester) but you don’t have to book in advance. If you decide to drive yourself, it’s important to pre-book parking at all airports – not just to be sure of getting a space, but because the fees for showing up without a reservation are much higher. In Luton, charges vary from £30 to £76.50 per day depending on proximity to the airport.

However, don’t expect even pre-booked rates to be cheap this week. One reader just emailed to say: “I’ve just booked a Gatwick airport car park for Thursday to Sunday. Off to Norway; no real way to get to the airport without a car. There doesn’t seem to be an issue with availability at this point, but it’s expensive – £80 long stay, £157 short stay (for four days).” Meanwhile, Gatwick, for example, is specifically warning people not to park without booking during the rail strike. Taxi services are very busy – if you want to use this option and don’t have a reservation yet, don’t hesitate a moment longer. Airport websites have contact numbers for advance bookings.

Does staying at the airport help?

A possible option for some will be booking an airport hotel – either for the night before departure or when you return to the UK and are unable to go home (see below). I checked for airport hotels near Stansted for tonight and there were still a few rooms available – but if you wanted a hotel within walking distance of the terminal you would have to pay £220. If you book a hotel outside of this area, make sure they offer shuttle service.

What if I miss my flight?

If you miss your flight because you simply can’t get to the airport, you may be able to claim at least part of the rebooking cost under your travel insurance, depending on your individual circumstances. Not all offer such coverage, but for example leading broker PJ Hayman ( has this to say about its Travel Plus policy: “As long as you didn’t know about the strikes when you booked the trip and insurance then you do if you were unable to get to the airport because of the strikes (ie they were not yet announced) you may have a claim under the Missed Departure section. The most important rule with any policy is not to assume you are covered without carefully reading the plan and ideally speaking to your insurer.

What happens if I don’t come home?

This will be a big problem for many people. Your best bet is to persuade friends or family to save you. Renting a car is likely to be an unattractive option as you are only traveling one way and – even if you have received a booking – the cost of picking up and dropping off the car at the airport is likely to be extremely high. If you can arrange a taxi now, do so – certainly don’t expect to be able to book a taxi on arrival. If you think you might need to stay overnight, it’s also worth booking now in case airport hotels sell out (see above).

Should I change my flights?

As a heir to Covid, with some airlines (e.g. BA) you may be entitled to change your flight booking until check-in opens. If you’re really struggling to get to the airport, it might be worth postponing your trip altogether. If you have booked a package with a tour operator, talk to them about possible options.

What should I do if I have booked a holiday in the UK and can no longer travel?

While you can get a refund for your train ticket, when it comes to booking accommodation, the situation is more complicated. If you already have travel insurance that covers UK holidays you may have some coverage, but otherwise your options will depend on the terms of the booking or the goodwill of the hotel, Airbnb or holiday home you have arranged. It is best to contact the owner or agent as soon as possible to discuss the situation, but ultimately you may have to pay cancellation fees.

Do you have a travel question related to this week’s rail strikes? Comment below to join the conversation What to do if the rail strike means you can’t get to the airport for your holiday

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