Heathrow has announced a cap of 100,000 daily passengers throughout the summer and has asked airlines to stop selling summer tickets.
Its CEO, John Holland-Kaye, said the move was necessary because of increased numbers of passengers exceeding the capacity of airlines, airline ground handlers and the airport.
Even with British Airways grounding 30,000 flights this summer, Heathrow airport is so concerned about passenger numbers that it is setting out strict controls.
In a open letter to passengers, Mr Holland-Kaye said: “At Heathrow, we have seen 40 years of passenger growth in just four months. Despite this, we managed to get the vast majority of passengers away smoothly on their journeys through the Easter and half-term peaks.
“This was only possible because of close collaboration and planning with our airport partners including airlines, airline ground handlers and Border Force.
“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.
“However, 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.”
But, what is the flight cap and how will this affect summer holidays? Here’s everything you need to know...
What is the Heathrow flight cap?
The airport has announced a daily capacity limit of 100,000 daily passengers, as it has estimated this is the volume of numbers it can handle until September 11.
Mr Holland-Kaye said forecasting predicted daily departing seats over the summer will average 104,000 seats.
About 1,500 of those 4,000 extra seats above capacity had already been sold to passengers, he said, so the airport was asking airlines to stop selling more summer tickets. This is likely to also mean some flight cancellations or rebookings as a result of the cap.
What does the Heathrow flight cap mean for the summer holidays?
Airlines now have the option of either running some flights that are not fully sold, or cancelling flights and rebooking passengers onto alternative flights.
This means some passengers are likely to be moved to another flight, on the same day, or a different day, or a flight from another airport.
However, it remains unclear how this will work in practice with the capacity cap and high demand at other airports. Because the cause of any cancellation is beyond the airline’s control, no cash compensation is being paid.
What is the normal number of passengers in summer?
Before the coronavirus pandemic, Heathrow regularly handled 110,000 departing travellers in a day – with a peak in summer 2019 of 125,000.
The airport CEO says: “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.”
Which routes might be affected?
Airlines will be looking mainly at lightly booked short-haul departures.
While British Airways would normally be expected to bear the brunt of the airport limit, BA has grounded so many flights this summer already – around 30,000, that it may be
American Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, Aer Lingus, Emirates and Lufthansa (plus its subsidiary Eurowings) are also significant users, and may have cuts imposed.
How will I know if my flight is cancelled?
Heathrow says: “If there are any flight cancellations or changes to flight details, airlines will contact their passengers directly.”
For most passengers, this will be through the normal channel of an email or text from the airline, or contact from a travel agent if that was how the booking was made.