Heathrow imposes cap on daily passenger numbers until September and tells airlines to stop selling flights

Not departing soon? Heathrow airport is capping passenger numbers for the next two months  (Steve Parsons/PA) (PA Wire)
Not departing soon? Heathrow airport is capping passenger numbers for the next two months (Steve Parsons/PA) (PA Wire)

The boss of the UK’s biggest airport has asked airlines to stop selling flights for the rest of the summer peak.

John Holland-Kaye, chief executive of London Heathrow, has imposed an unprecedented daily cap of 100,000 departing passengers until 11 September 2022.

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.”

Airlines operating at Heathrow airport had until last Friday, 8 July, to cancel summer flights without losing the rights to slots for next summer.

The Heathrow CEO said: “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.

“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.”

Carriers will have to choose between sending flights away with some seats unsold, or cancelling departures and moving passengers to alternative flights.

Affected passengers are entitled to be flown on the same day as their original booking – on any airline that has a seat available.

Because the cause of any cancellation is beyond the airline’s control, no cash compensation is being paid.

British Airways is the leading airline at Heathrow with more than half of departures at normal times. The Independent has asked BA for a response.

On two days so far this summer, Heathrow has ordered airlines to cut back on flights to relieve the pressure on airport systems.

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