Gatwick urges removal of all travel restrictions after 2021 passenger slump

Government Covid travel restrictions led to passenger numbers using Gatwick to fall 38.5% last year to 6.3 million.

The reduced throughput compared with 10.2 million passengers using the airport in 2020 when the pandemic first hit.

Airport chef executive Stewart Wingate urged the government to make 2022 “the year when all travel restrictions are removed completely, including the unpopular passenger locator form”.

Annual losses for 2021 were trimmed to £370.6 million against £465.5 million the previous year.

The improved performance came as passenger numbers exceeded one million in August, September, October and December.

But the airport’s parent company said: “Continually changing restrictions at short notice throughout the year have impacted passengers’ confidence to book flights.

“A proportion of passengers however have continued to travel when possible, as demonstrated through increasing passenger numbers in the second half of the year despite the emerging Omicron variant.

“Passengers in the second half of the year totalled 5.7 million, representing 90.9% of the traffic for the year.

“The high level of vaccinations in the UK and our core markets; the availability of widespread testing and the acknowledgement from government that economic impacts need to be considered when determining restrictions means that 2022 is likely to see less restrictions in place than in 2021, allowing the recovery of international travel.”

Gatwick will reopen its South Terminal on March 27 March and continue a recruitment campaign to help meet the expected strong demand for air travel from this summer.

Increased short-haul flying from the airport indicate a strong 2022 summer, with EasyJet leasing of British Airways slots giving the budget airline its highest capacity at Gatwick with 120 routes operated by 79  aircraft.

The return of BA’s short haul operations will see 18 aircraft flying 35 short- haul routes.

Five Gatwick-based Wizz Air aircraft will support a total of 25 routes and Vueling will run 16 routes, basing two aircraft at Gatwick.

Long-haul traffic has also seen demand for holiday destinations when restrictions allowed, with Caribbean services by BA and Tui remaining strong throughout 2021.

The second half of 2021 also saw WestJet and Air Transat restart services to Canada, BA and Tui resume flights to Florida, Emirates restarting  a Dubai link, with other long-haul connections re-established to Mexico, Mauritius, Costa Rica, Aruba and Qatar.

JetBlue also started serving New York and Scoot to Bangkok.

Gatwick also took steps last year to secure the airport’s longer-term future by completing a 12-week public consultation on the proposal to bring its existing northern runway into routine use by summer 2029 for departing aircraft, alongside its main runway.

Wingate said: “As it was for many airports, 2021 was a difficult year for Gatwick but, despite constantly changing travel restrictions and the emerging Omicron variant, we managed to end the year strongly and reduced our losses compared to the previous year.

“Today, we find ourselves in a very different position. Major announcements from our airlines about significantly increased flying schedules, and from government on airport slot regulations and the relaxation of travel restrictions, mean we are now looking forward to a strong summer. 

“We’re currently focussed on reopening our South Terminal to ensure we can meet this expected strong demand and we are looking forward to welcoming back passengers in increasingly larger numbers.

“The rebounding of international connectivity toward pre-pandemic levels will boost job and business opportunities, which is great news for many in our local communities and beyond.

“However, fully restoring consumer confidence will take time and I urge government to make 2022 the year when all travel restrictions are removed completely, including the unpopular passenger locator form.”

*The results came as Airlines UK accused rival Heathrow of hiking charges by an average of 56% per passenger this year.

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