Paul Smith’s open and people are hugging like in Love Actually... oh the joy of flying again

·3-min read
It is great to see people so excited to be able to travel again, but unsurprisingly many are out of the habit (PA Wire)
It is great to see people so excited to be able to travel again, but unsurprisingly many are out of the habit (PA Wire)

It’s Sunday and our passenger numbers are on the rise. I’m in Terminal 5 as part of our “Here to Help” programme, in which we help passengers get away smoothly on their travels. It is great to see people so excited to be able to travel again, but unsurprisingly many are out of the habit, so we try to have plenty of colleagues on hand. Most of the bags that need to be hand-searched at security are because someone has forgotten to take out their hand sanitiser — that wasn’t an issue pre-Covid!

On Monday we release our half-year results and I have to announce that our losses have exceeded £2.9 billion since the start of Covid, despite of significant cost cutting. Heathrow has consistently been the biggest hub in Europe, a huge competitive advantage for the UK and London, but today as Europe reopens their skies faster than the UK, both Paris and Frankfurt have more than twice as many passengers. The result — their cargo volumes are growing and ours are declining because there are so few passenger flights, which carry most cargo. This is a big issue for British exporters. With the UK’s world-leading vaccination programme, you have to ask, where is the vaccine dividend? Opening up travel to more double vaccinated passengers will help kickstart the UK’s post-pandemic recovery, so in partnership with British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, we have been conducting a 10-day trial that shows that internationally-recognised vaccination statuses can be confirmed quickly and easily at check-in. The evidence suggests we can safely open up travel to double vaccinated EU and US passengers; now we have to wait to see if the Government agrees.

It’s Tuesday and I’m back in the terminals, this time T3, which until last week had been closed for over a year. We have reopened it ahead of the summer peak and it’s fantastic to see the new Paul Smith store open and ready for customers. We love to promote British brands, and Heathrow is a fantastic shop window for Britain’s great retailers to reach an international audience.

On Wednesday the Transport Secretary announces that double- vaccinated passengers from the US and EU do not need to quarantine when they travel to the UK. This is fantastic news, not only for aviation but the wider economy. I’m interviewed in T2 Arrivals by BBC and Sky, and in the background, there were Love Actually-style scenes, with people reunited with loved ones. That’s why we need to open up — to reconnect people. The Government has taken a big step this week; now we need to reduce the cost of testing for low-risk countries, switching from PCR tests to Lateral Flow, so that everyone can travel, not just the well off.

Thursday I travel into central London for a meeting. It’s the first time I have been on the Tube in over 12 months. I used to be an old hand, knowing exactly where to be on the Bakerloo train so that I can switch to the Jubilee line at Baker Street but I’m out of practice. It is fantastic to be back but eerily quiet. Now that double-vaccinated passengers from the EU and US can visit again, that should change, and we can help get London back to its busy, buzzy best.

John Holland-Kaye is CEO at Heathrow Airport

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Comment: Let the Americans in

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