Heathrow airport has called on the UK government to open up travel for fully vaccinated passengers as it said its losses because of the Covid-19 pandemic had reached almost £3bn.
The airport reported a £868m loss for the first half of 2021 and said restrictions and expensive testing requirements were hindering the UK’s economic recovery. This pushed its total losses since the start of the pandemic to £2.9bn.
The UK’s largest airport said passenger demand was increasing, although it reported that fewer than 4 million people travelled through its terminals in the first six months of 2021, a number that would have been surpassed in only 18 days of 2019 traffic.
Amid travel restrictions and costly Covid test requirements for travellers, Heathrow cautioned that any increase in passenger numbers remained uncertain, and said it could still welcome fewer passengers in 2021 than 2020.
Despite the persistently low numbers of travellers, there were reports that some arriving passengers were forced to queue for two hours to get through UK immigration on Saturday, prompting an apology from Heathrow’s boss, John Holland-Kaye.
“I did hear reports of passengers in immigration who were very unfortunately caught out by a combination of Border Force officers being pinged and some of the e-gates not working,” Holland-Kaye told Times Radio.
“Most people going through the border at Heathrow are having a very good experience, they’re getting through in a few minutes. That is the norm.”
Heathrow welcomed recent changes to the government’s traffic light system for travel from England, with more summer holiday destinations added to the “green” list.
As a result, Heathrow expects to welcome 21.5 million passengers in 2021 because of the pent-up demand for travel, a small decline compared with last year but a fall of almost 75% compared with 2019.
“The UK is emerging from the worst effects of the health pandemic but is falling behind its EU rivals in international trade by being slow to remove restrictions,” Holland-Kaye said.
“Replacing PCR tests with lateral flow tests and opening up to EU and US vaccinated travellers at the end of July will start to get Britain’s economic recovery off the ground.”
Heathrow said trade routes between the EU and the US have recovered to almost 50% of pre-pandemic levels, while trade between the UK and the US remains 92% down.
Heathrow complained that travel was the only sector of the economy that is still facing government restrictions and called on ministers to provide financial support, including an extension to the furlough scheme, for as long as travel restrictions continue.
The London airport also called for business rates relief to be extended to airports, adding that it pays almost £120m a year in rates despite currently being loss-making.