UK. Heathrow Airport has asked its airline partners to stop selling summer tickets from today, in a bid to ease growing pressure on staffing resources at the UK’s largest travel hub.
The airport is seeking to enforce a limit of 100,000 passengers a day in the peak summer months, 4,000 less than are currently scheduled. The cap will run to 11 September.
The move comes in the face of traveller disruptions at Heathrow in recent weeks, including long queues, baggage issues and cancelled flights.
Last month, the Department for Transport and the Civil Aviation Authority wrote to the UK aviation sector asking for a review of plans for the summer to ensure that expected passenger levels are managed safely and with minimal disruption.
Ministers subsequently implemented a slot amnesty programme to encourage airlines to remove flights from their schedules with no penalty. “We held off putting additional controls on passenger numbers until this amnesty process concluded last Friday and we had a clearer view of the reductions that airlines have made,” said Heathrow Airport CEO John Holland-Kaye.
“By making this intervention now, our objective is to protect flights for the vast majority of passengers at Heathrow this summer and to give confidence that everyone who does travel through the airport will have a safe and reliable journey and arrive at their destination with their bags” – Heathrow Airport CEO John Holland-Kaye
He continued: “Some airlines have taken significant action, but others have not, and we believe that further action is needed now to ensure passengers have a safe and reliable journey. We have therefore made the difficult decision to introduce a capacity cap with effect from 12 July to 11 September.
“Similar measures to control passenger demand have been implemented at other airports both in the UK and around the world.”
Holland-Kaye added that the legacy of COVID-19 continues to pose challenges for the entire aviation sector as it rebuilds capacity, noting that Heathrow has seen 40 years of passenger growth in just four months.
In an open letter to passengers on the capacity cap, Holland-Kaye had this to say about staffing issues at Heathrow: “We started recruiting back in November last year in anticipation of capacity recovering this summer, and by the end of July, we will have as many people working in security as we had pre-pandemic.
“We have also reopened and moved 25 airlines into Terminal 4 to provide more space for passengers and grown our passenger service team.
“New colleagues are learning fast but are not yet up to full speed. However, there are some critical functions in the airport which are still significantly under-resourced, in particular ground handlers, who are contracted by airlines to provide check-in staff, load and unload bags and turnaround aircraft.
“They are doing the very best they can with the resources available and we are giving them as much support possible, but this is a significant constraint to the airport’s overall capacity.”
Holland-Kaye said that, in the airport’s assessment, the maximum number of daily departing passengers that airlines, airline ground handlers and the airport can collectively serve over the summer is no more than 100,000 daily.
He explained: “The latest forecasts indicate that even despite the amnesty, daily departing seats over the summer will average 104,000 – giving a daily excess of 4,000 seats. On average only about 1,500 of these 4,000 daily seats have currently been sold to passengers, and so we are asking our airline partners to stop selling summer tickets to limit the impact on passengers.”
Holland-Kaye concluded: “By making this intervention now, our objective is to protect flights for the vast majority of passengers at Heathrow this summer and to give confidence that everyone who does travel through the airport will have a safe and reliable journey and arrive at their destination with their bags.
“We recognise that this will mean some summer journeys will either be moved to another day, another airport or be cancelled and we apologise to those whose travel plans are affected.”