Emirates refuses Heathrow’s demand to cut flightson July 14, 2022 at 10:40 am

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The airline accuses the airport of “incompetence” and of having a “blatant disregard” for customers.

Emirates flightImage source, Getty Images

Emirates has rejected Heathrow Airport’s demands for airlines to stop selling summer tickets, calling the move “unreasonable and unacceptable”.

The airline accused the airport of having a “blatant disregard” for customers after it capped passenger numbers to 100,000 per day over summer.

Emirates said Heathrow now faced “an ‘airmageddon’ situation due to their incompetence and non-action”.

It added it planned to operate flights to and from the airport as scheduled.

In a statement heavily criticising Heathrow management, Emirates accused the airport of choosing “not to act, not to plan, not invest” and said its new cap on passengers appeared to have been “plucked from thin air”.

“They wish to force Emirates to deny seats to tens of thousands of travellers who have paid for, and booked months ahead, their long-awaited package holidays or trips to see their loved ones,” the airline said, citing that people were desperate to travel after two years of pandemic restrictions.

The company said it was given 36 hours to cut passenger numbers, and therefore flights, and was threatened with legal action for not complying.

“This is entirely unreasonable and unacceptable, and we reject these demands,” it added.

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

Emirates said the reduction represented a “greater than a 50% cut” given that Heathrow handled 219,000 passengers a day on average before the pandemic in 2019.

Thousands of UK travellers have been affected by disruption in recent weeks, with many having to deal with last-minute flight cancellations.

The UK is about to enter the key summer holiday season as schools begin to break up and there are concerns travellers will be hit by further disruption and delays to journeys.

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Analysis box by Theo Leggett, business correspondent

Emirates is clearly furious. While airlines haven’t always enjoyed a smooth relationship with Heathrow, arguing over charges for example, this is in a different league.

Accusing the airport operator of incompetence, blatant disregard for consumers, creating a mess that airlines and passengers have to sort out… it isn’t pulling any punches here.

Emirates is in a difficult position. It relies on carrying large numbers of passengers in big planes from London to Dubai, where most of them fly on to other long-haul destinations. So every flight cut matters – and Emirates thinks it shouldn’t have to cut them.

It isn’t the only airline saying this sort of thing, either. Others have been very vocal behind the scenes as well.

Emirates claims Heathrow has threatened legal action if it doesn’t comply with the demand to cut flights – but says it has no intention of doing so.

The gloves are off.

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Airports and airlines, which cut jobs during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, have struggled to recruit staff as demand for international travel has returned.

But Emirates said its ground handling and catering staff were “fully ready and capable” of handling its scheduled flights, claiming the “crux of the issue lies with the central services and systems which are the responsibility of the airport operator”.

“They are pushing the entire burden – of costs and the scramble to sort the mess – to airlines and travellers,” its statement said. “All the signals of a strong travel rebound were there.”

The airline said that as international travel had recovered over the past year, it had rehired and trained 1,000 pilots. The carrier also said it seen “regularly high seat loads” so “our operational requirements cannot be a surprise to the airport”.

It said rebooking passengers was “impossible” with all of its flights at full capacity over the next few weeks, which included services at other London airports and on other airlines.

“Moving some of our passenger operations to other UK airports at such short notice is also not realistic,” the airline said. “Ensuring ground readiness to handle and turnaround a widebody long-haul aircraft with 500 passengers onboard is not as simple as finding a parking spot at a mall.”

Passengers queuing at Heathrow

Image source, PA Media

British Airways said Heathrow’s demand was “incredibly disappointing” for customers and came after it had already reduced its summer schedule.

BA is cutting an extra six flights a day in response to to the move and customers will be offered options including including rebooking or getting a refund.

The BBC has contacted Heathrow Airport for comment.

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

On Tuesday, the airport’s boss, John Holland-Kaye, said that when departing passenger numbers had exceeded 100,000 a day in recent weeks, there were “periods when service drops to a level that is not acceptable” which included long queue times, delays for passengers requiring assistance, bags not travelling with passengers or arriving late, and last-minute cancellations

“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,” he said.

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