Summer passengers numbers using Luton airport plunged by 66% compared to pre-pandemic levels.
The slump triggered a plea to overhaul government restrictions on international travel in a call echoing wider travel industry demands on ministers.
The airport handled 1.2 million travellers across the months of July and August against 3.6 million in the equivalent summer peak in 2019.
The figure also represented a 4% drop compared to last summer, blamed on the uncertainty created by changing travel restrictions despite the success of the UK’s vaccination programme.
The most popular destinations were Palma, Bucharest and Belfast, reflecting the government’s traffic light system.
The airport wants to see a simplified approach to travel through easier and cheaper testing.
Additional financial support through the quieter winter period will also be essential, such as an extension to the job support scheme for travel businesses.
Luton airport chief executive Alberto Martin said: “We recognise the effort government is making to try to help the sector navigate this difficult period, but these figures make clear the need to urgently overhaul the current travel system in order to restore passenger confidence and enable the sector to trade its way through the winter season and out of the crisis.
“Further specific financial support is also needed while the outlook remains so uncertain.”