Heathrow Airport has urged the government to remove all testing for fully vaccinated passengers and to adopt a more predictable approach for future Covid-19 variants, following a wave of cancellations last Christmas and a sharp decline in passengers.
The airport’s holding company has now called for future restrictive measures to only be placed on passengers from high-risk destinations, and to allow quarantine at home instead of in designated hotels.
At least 600,000 passengers cancelled travel plans from Heathrow in December, according to the airport’s latest traffic figures, following the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant and the uncertainty caused by swiftly imposed government travel restrictions.
COVID-19 continues to pose significant challenges for the travel industry, with Heathrow welcoming only 19.4 million passengers in 2021 – less than one quarter of 2019 and below even 2020 levels.
Terminal passengers have declined by over 40 per cent from the Asia-Pacific region, while arrivals from North America has declined by 13.6 per cent, with declining numbers across every part of the world apart from domestic UK flights.
The aviation industry is now in for a long-haul recovery, with IATA forecasts suggesting passenger numbers will not reach pre-pandemic levels until 2025.
This is provided travel restrictions are removed at both ends of a route, and passengers have confidence obstructive measures will not return rapidly.
Heathrow has warned the current situation creates enormous uncertainty for the CAA in setting a new five-year regulatory settlement, with fears of a return to the “Heathrow hassle” days of the early 2000s, which could undermine the UK’s global trading ambitions.
Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye 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 5 year regulatory settlement, it means the regulator must focus on an outcome that improves service, incentivises growth and maintains affordable private financing.”
Susannah Streeter, senior investment and markets analyst, Hargreaves Lansdown said: “Omicron was the Scrooge which cancelled Christmas for thousands of passengers with onerous testing requirements leading to a mass exodus from airports.”
Commenting on Heathrow’s proposals, she added: “It’s little surprise Heathrow airport is now calling for the scrapping of all tests for fully vaccinated passengers and instead for a predictable playbook to go by, in the event of fresh variants of concern. Despite hopes for pent up demand to translate into a bounce back in bookings this year, the industry looks set to face a long haul recovery ahead. “