Heathrow is calling on the UK government to scrap testing for fully vaccinated passengers, as it revealed the impact of Omicron on December’s travel figures.
The airport welcomed only 19.4 million passengers in 2021 – less than one quarter of 2019 and below even 2020 levels.
At least 600,000 passengers cancelled travel plans from Heathrow in December “due to Omicron and the uncertainty caused by swiftly imposed government travel restrictions”.
It warned there is “significant doubt” over the speed at which demand will recover.
Iata forecasts suggest passenger numbers will not reach pre-pandemic levels until 2025, “provided travel restrictions are removed at both ends of a route and passengers have confidence they will not return rapidly”.
In a statement the airport said: “We are urging the UK government to remove all testing now for fully vaccinated passengers and to adopt a playbook for any future Variants of Concern that is more predictable, limits additional measures only to passengers from high-risk destinations and allows quarantine at home instead of in a hotel.”
John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow chief executive, said: “There are currently travel restrictions, such as testing, on all Heathrow routes – the aviation industry will only fully recover when these are all lifted and there is no risk that they will be reimposed at short notice, a situation which is likely to be years away.
“While this creates enormous uncertainty for the CAA in setting a new five-year regulatory settlement, it means the regulator must focus on an outcome that improves service, incentivises growth and maintains affordable private financing.”
There was outcry from the aviation and travel sectors in December when the government reintroduced a range of travel restrictions in response to the surge of Omicron cases.
Pre-departure tests and PCRs for day-two testing on arrival have now been scrapped, and the red list of countries has been cleared.