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Hundreds at Heathrow ‘die-in’ protest against airport expansion

Hundreds of activists stage ‘die-in’ and disruptive ‘critical mass’ bike ride at Heathrow to protest aviation expansion and highlight injustice of climate change impacts.

This afternoon, over 100 people took part in a ‘die-in’ flashmob inside Heathrow terminal 2. Protesters wearing gas masks lay on the floor, as testimonies from communities already affected by climate change were read [1].

Simultaneously, a ‘critical mass’ bike ride with 150 riders wearing red [2] circled the area, visiting Harmondsworth Detention Centre to highlight the link between climate impacts and migration, and obstructing traffic by circling the main roundabout on Bath Road and dropping banners.

The action was part of a global wave of actions opposing airport expansion (including Austria, France, Mexico, Turkey), timed to coincide with a major UN conference aiming to address the emissions impact of aviation. The process has received criticism for not attempting to reduce emissions, instead focussing on controversial ‘carbon offsets’.

A ‘flash-mob’ picnic protest also happened at Gatwick this morning.

The decision on airport expansion is expected on the 11th or 18th October; with recent reports suggesting there is parliamentary support for Heathrow.

Maya Adams, a spokesperson for Reclaim the Power, said:

‘Expanding airports is completely irresponsible and will bring us out of reach of our own targets to stop climate change. This problem isn’t be caused by business or normal families taking a holiday, but a wealthy elite ‘binge flying’, often to second homes. Yet it’s poorer countries that are the hardest hit by climate change, even though they have done the least to cause the problem. Expanding Heathrow is incompatible with creating a fairer and more equal world.

When governments fail us, when international UN bodies that are meant to be dealing with these problems fail us, it’s time for normal people to take a stand.

People power has defeated this runway before, and it’ll defeat it again. The Tory election pledge in 2010 was ‘no ifs, no buts, no third runway’, and we intend to hold them to that.

We can build new runways, or we can honour our legally binding climate commitments. We can’t do both.’

James Gibson, a spokesperson for Reclaim the Power outside Harmondsworth Detention Centre said:

‘Increasing droughts, floods and natural disasters caused by climate change destroy homes and livelihoods forcing people to migrate – the very same people that the UK government is targeting with racist anti-migrant policies and draconian detention centres.

Instead of demonising and scapegoating migrants and refugees, the UK government should be cracking down on the big polluters, like airports, who are forcing people to move in the first place.’

Maggie Thorburn, a local resident, said:

“Heathrow expansion plans put forward to increase flights will bring more traffic and hence  more pollution. We are fighting to convince Theresa May to remain opposed to Heathrow expansion, which she has been since 2008. I will press on campaigning for the climate and no new runways anywhere.”

Aviation facts:

  • Flying is the most emissions-intensive form of transport and the fastest growing cause of climate change.
  • Globally, aviation emissions are forecast to balloon by 300% by 2050.
  • This growth is incompatible with UK climate targets as set out in the Climate Change Act 2008.
  • The International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO), assembled right now in Montreal, has not proposed any plans so far to limit or reduce the CO2 emissions from aviation.
  • Globally, flying benefits a privileged few – only 3-7% of people have flown – and even in the UK a 15% minority of the population take 70% of flights. In contrast, the damaging impacts of aviation are experienced by everyone – climate change will affect the entire world population but is hitting some of the poorest, most vulnerable areas (where people do not fly) first and worst.
  • The aviation industry enjoys a number of tax breaks: most substantially there is no duty on aircraft fuel or VAT on tickets, a ‘major anomaly’ according to the World Bank and IMF. This money could be invested in sustainable transport, in improving rail connections around the UK and internationally.
  • A large proportion of Heathrow flights are short haul, these routes could be better, and more sustainably, serviced by improved rail infrastructure. Past experience shows this: since the Eurostar has been running the number of flights from London to Paris and Brussels has fallen dramatically (by nearly half and a third, respectively).
  • If Heathrow expands, it would be responsible for more emissions than any other single site in the UK, including Drax the UK’s largest power station.


  • In July 2015 the Davies Report recommended building a third runway at Heathrow airport.
  • In July 2016 London City airport was given the go-ahead for expansion to accommodate larger aircraft and more traffic.
  • The decision on a new runway at a London airport is expected in October; Theresa May announced 29/09 that there was cabinet support for Heathrow.
  • The UN body for the aviation industry is meeting between 26th Sept – 7th Oct for the World Aviation Forum, and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Assembly. They will be pushing for Carbon Offsets to be used as a market mechanism to make aviation ‘sustainable’.
  • Around the world, international anti-aviation expansion movements will be taking action around the same time:

Notes to editor:

  1. Testimonies were read from people in the Pacific Islands and Horn of Africa. Full text found here.
  2. The red represents the red lines for climate change that aviation expansion crosses, and a meme used in previous demonstrations, including at the Paris climate summit
  3. The #StayGrounded protest was organised by Reclaim the Power, a grassroots direct action network taking action for social and environmental justice. Previous actions include high profile anti-fracking camp in Balcombe in 2013 and mass occupation of the UK’s largest open-cast coal mine, Ffos-y-fran earlier in 2016.