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What to do if the UK rail strike means you can’t get to the airport

Here are your alternatives to getting to the terminal by train

Ed Cunningham
Written by
Ed Cunningham

As the biggest industrial action to hit the UK in a generation kicks off, no doubt plenty of you have already been affected by cancelled trains and greatly reduced rail services. Today, Thursday and Saturday (June 21, 23 and 25), members of the RMT union at Network Rail and 13 rail operators across the UK are walking out over pay freezes and staff cuts (see our full guide to the strike here).

Obviously, it’s all proving hugely disruptive for rail travellers across the country (that is, after all, the point), but what about people trying to reach airports? Trains are a crucial mode of travel for travellers reaching airports across the UK. And even on routes that are not technically on strike, plenty are still affected and running a reduced service.

So what can you do if the rail strike means you can’t get to the airport? Well, below we’ve put together a handy guide of everything you need to know.

First things first, if you’re looking to get the train to the airport, you’ll need to check the website of your route operator because each line is running at a different capacity. In London, for instance, the Gatwick Express is not running on any strike days, but the Stansted Express is running a reduced service that starts and ends earlier and doesn’t serve Norwich and Cambridge.

The Heathrow Express is also running a less frequent service, though with the tube not running today (June 21), this could cause extra issues. The London Underground returns at 8am on Wednesday, June 22. 

So what about more general advice for getting to airports without trains? Well, one way is by using a taxi or a ride-hailing app like Uber or Bolt. Reasonably hassle-free, this way you completely avoid trains and don’t have to worry about things like airport drop-off fees or parking. However, expect Uber to be on surge pricing for much of the week. 

A similarly easy option is to get a coach or bus to the airport. In the likes of Manchester, Bristol and London, these typically run from city centre train stations. Expect buses and coaches to be much, much busier than usual – and make sure to book ahead for coaches.

Another way to avoid the trains is to drive to the airport or get a lift. If you’re hitching a ride, beware of airport drop-off fees. If you’re driving yourself, you’ll need to check that there is parking availability in advance, which can usually be found on your airport’s website.

A more drastic alternative is to get an airport hotel the night before. While potentially adding quite a bit to the cost of your trip, it’ll at least make sure you arrive in time for your flight. Because the rail strikes are not on consecutive days, it shouldn’t be too difficult to get to airports on non-strike days.

As an absolute last resort, some airlines also offer the chance for a flight swap. A leftover from the Covid era, the likes of Turkish Airlines and British Airways still allow customers to change flights without a fee. If you don’t want to risk trying to get to the airport during the rail strike (and if your airline allows it – you can check this on your carrier’s website), delaying your holiday entirely might not be a bad shout.

But what happens if, worst comes to the worst, you don’t make it to the airport in time for your flight? Well, that depends. If you’ve got travel insurance, there is a chance you’ll be able to claim some of your ticket back. However, you’ll need to have booked your flight before the strikes were announced, so that you can claim the disruption was unforeseen. You’ll know if you have travel insurance because you’ll have either taken it out separately or it’ll be part of your flight booking.

In short, if you’re flying out of a UK airport today, Thursday or Saturday, then good luck! And if you do manage to avoid the rail disruption, then all you’ll have to deal with is the UK’s currently-very-shitty airports. Ah, brilliant.

ICYMI: here’s everything you need to know about this week’s UK rail strikes.

Plus: EasyJet pilots say flight cancellations haven’t even peaked yet.

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