Heathrow has asked airlines to stop selling summer tickets, as it was forced to cap the number of daily passengers to deal with travel mayhem.
The airport’s cap – introduced from today until 11 September – will amount to 100,000 departing passengers per day.
Commenting on the decision, aviation analyst Sally Gethin told City A.M.: “This is an unprecedented step for Heathrow, showing the airport is at crisis point.
“Effectively, this takes Heathrow back to 2014 average daily departures traffic.
“It puts airlines in a quandary as many are still carrying unprecedented levels of debt after the pandemic and need to sell tickets in order to survive and remain profitable.”
The head of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Willie Walsh was quick to slam the move, as he accused the hub of profiteering at the expense of carriers.
A former boss of British Airways’ (BA) owner IAG, Walsh said: “To tell airlines to stop selling, what a ridiculous thing for an airport to say to an airline.”
Nevertheless, a Virgin Atlantic spokesperson said the airline would support “proactive measures” as long as the action proposed didn’t “disproportionately impact home carriers at the airport.”
The 100,000 limit is below Heathrow’s pre-pandemic levels of between 110,000 and 125,000 daily departing customers as well as airlines’ estimates of 104,000 for the peak summer period.
Heathrow is not the only airport to implement such changes, as Amsterdam’s Schiphol capped daily passengers to 67,500 in July, bringing it up to 73,000 in August.
Commenting on the announcement, a Virgin Atlantic spokesperson said the airline would support “proactive measures” as long as the action proposed didn’t “disproportionately impact home carriers at the airport.”
Boss John Holland-Kaye justified the decision saying that, despite its best efforts, the airport was still struggling.
The chief executive added ground handling services were still “significantly under resourced,” even though Heathrow was planning to have as many people working in security as it had before the pandemic by the end of the month.
“They are doing the very best they can with the resources available and we are giving them as much support possible, but this is a significant constraint to the airport’s overall capacity,” he wrote on Tuesday in an open letter to passengers.
“Our colleagues are going above and beyond to get as many passengers away as possible, but we cannot put them at risk for their own safety and wellbeing.”
Holland-Kaye explained that Heathrow was forced to impose the cap after the “amnesty” period granted to carriers by the government did not smooth operations.
British Airways (BA) was among those who took advantage of the period, which came to an end on Friday, as it cut around 18 per cent of its summer services.
“Some airlines have taken significant action, but others have not, and we believe that further action is needed now to ensure passengers have a safe and reliable journey,” the chief executive added.
The airport was forced yesterday to cut 61 flights last minute as it couldn’t cope with passenger volumes, City A.M. reported.