Heathrow imposes cap on summer departures

Heathrow has set a daily cap on departing passenger numbers for the remainder of the summer meaning airlines will have to cancel additional flights.

John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow chief executive, announced the cap today, limiting passengers to 100,000 a day – a reduction of 4,000 a day on current numbers.

He said Heathrow was asking airlines to halt sales of summer flights.

The move came after Heathrow ordered carriers at Terminals 2 and 3 to cancel 61 flights at short notice yesterday morning despite airlines stripping thousands of services from schedules over the previous week.

British Airways alone announced the cancellation of 10,300 flights last week, taking the total it has cancelled over the summer to about 30,000.

The airport’s cap on departures will extend from today (July 12) to September 11.

In a statement, Heathrow said: “Following the conclusion of the government’s slot amnesty window, we have a clearer picture of the reductions airlines are making throughout the summer

“Some airlines have taken significant action, others have not.

“Our assessment is that the maximum number of daily departing passengers that airlines, ground handlers and the airport can serve over the summer is no more than 100,000. The cap will therefore be set at 100,000 daily.

“Despite the amnesty, daily departing seats over the summer will average 104,000 – giving a daily excess of 4,000 seats.”

Heathrow said: “On average only about 1,500 of these 4,000 daily seats have currently been sold, so we are asking airline partners to stop selling summer tickets to limit the impact on passengers.

“We recognise this will mean some journeys will be moved to another day, another airport or be cancelled and we apologise to those whose travel plans are affected.”

In an open letter to passengers explaining the move, Holland-Kaye said: “The global aviation industry is recovering from the pandemic, but the legacy of Covid continues to pose challenges for the entire sector.

“At Heathrow, we have seen 40 years of passenger growth in just four months.

“We started recruiting in November last year in anticipation of capacity recovering this summer, and by the end of July we will have as many people working in security as we had pre-pandemic.

“New colleagues are learning fast but are not yet up to full speed.

“However, critical functions in the airport 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.

“This is a significant constraint to the airport’s overall capacity.

“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.

“This is due to a combination of reduced arrivals punctuality, as a result of delays at other airports and in European airspace, and increased passenger numbers starting to exceed the capacity of airlines, airline ground handlers and the airport.

“Last month, the Department for Transport and CAA wrote to the sector asking us all to review our plans for the summer and ensure we were prepared to manage expected passenger levels safely and minimise further disruption.

“Ministers subsequently implemented a slot amnesty programme to encourage airlines to remove flights from their schedules with no penalty.

“We held off putting additional controls on passenger numbers until this amnesty process concluded last Friday and we had a clearer view of the reductions that airlines have made.

“We have therefore made the difficult decision to introduce a capacity cap. Similar measures to control passenger demand have been implemented at other airports in the UK and around the world.

“By making this intervention now, our objective is to protect flights for the vast majority of passengers this summer and to give confidence that everyone who does travel through the airport will have a safe and reliable journey and arrive at their destination with their bags.

“The airport will still be busy, and we ask you to bear with us if it takes a little longer to check in, go through security or collect your bag than you are used to.”

Guy Hobbs, acting editor of Which? Travel, said: “While this cap may ease the unacceptable chaos passengers are facing at the UK’s biggest airport, thousands of people will now be worrying about whether their flight or holiday plans are about to fall apart.

“Heathrow must work with airlines to quickly provide clarity on which flights are being cut, and airlines need to be upfront with those passengers affected about their right to be rebooked at the earliest opportunity, including on services from other airlines.

“This daily drip-feed of disappointment will be hugely unsettling for individuals and families. Airports and airlines need to be held to account for the unacceptable disruption travellers have faced in recent months. The government must give the Civil Aviation Authority stronger powers so it can hit operators with heavy fines when they flout the rules.”

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