Heathrow tells airlines to stop selling summer ticketson July 12, 2022 at 2:38 pm

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The airport limits the number of passengers who can depart each day as it struggles to cope with demand.

Passengers at HeathrowImage source, Getty Images

Heathrow Airport has told airlines to stop selling summer tickets, as the UK’s biggest airport struggles to cope with the rebound in air travel.

The airport is limiting the number of passengers who can depart each day over the peak summer months to 100,000, 4,000 fewer than currently scheduled.

The cap on passenger numbers will be in place from now until 11 September.

Thousands of UK travellers have been affected by disruption in recent weeks, including last-minute cancellations.

Airports and airlines, which cut jobs during Covid lockdowns, have struggled to recruit staff as demand for holidays has returned. The UK is about to enter the key summer holiday season as schools begin to break up.

Ministers told carriers to review their plans after chaos in May, blamed on a shortage of airline and airport staff.

In addition, a temporary government “amnesty” to the rules on airport slots was put in place, allowing airlines to change their summer schedules without facing a potential penalty.

But despite this, Heathrow said airlines were still planning to operate flights carrying more daily passengers than could be processed in an acceptable manner.

“Over the past few weeks, as departing passenger numbers have regularly exceeded 100,000 a day, we have started to see periods when service drops to a level that is not acceptable: long queue times, delays for passengers requiring assistance, bags not travelling with passengers or arriving late, low punctuality and last-minute cancellations,” said Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye.

“Our assessment is that 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.

“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.”

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Analysis box by Theo Leggett, business correspondent

It’s a painful admission for Heathrow – but one that could be considered inevitable. It just can’t cope with the number of people who want to fly.

The airport has been struggling to deal with a surge in passengers, following the removal of Covid-related travel restrictions.

The results haven’t been pretty. Long queues, delays, last-minute cancellations, busloads of orphaned bags and plenty of very angry travellers

Staff shortages have been a key problem – although Heathrow places most of the blame on airlines for failing to bring in enough ground handling workers.

Gatwick has faced similar issues- but acted sooner, placing a cap on the number of daily flights several weeks ago.

Now, Heathrow is following suit, with a move that looks set to cause further aggravation for travellers during what’s already become a pretty miserable summer.

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Heathrow’s passenger numbers have continued to rise as it recovers from the pandemic.

But they are still below pre-coronavirus levels, when the airport saw roughly 110,000 to 125,000 daily departures.

Mr Holland-Kaye apologised to passengers whose travel plans might be affected by the move.

“But this is the right thing to do to provide a better, more reliable journey and to keep everyone working at the airport safe.”

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