LONDON – Heathrow Airport said on Tuesday it would limit the number of passengers to mid-September, citing staff shortages that have led to long queues, delays, lost luggage and last-minute cancellations.
In an open letter to passengers, Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye urged airlines to stop selling new tickets as critical features at the airport have been significantly curtailed.
“We recognize that this will mean that some summer trips will either be moved to another day, another airport or canceled, and we apologize to those whose travel plans are affected,”[ads1]; he said. In recent weeks, there have been periods when the service had dropped to a level that “was not acceptable”, he said.
Mr. Holland-Kaye said the airport could not handle more than 100,000 departures each day, slightly less than the 104,000 he estimated it would be expected to serve on average. He asked the airlines to limit the number of tickets they sell to get the number back below the 100,000 fare.
Asked how Heathrow would enforce the capacity limit, an airport spokeswoman, Hannah Smith, said it would be managed by an independent coordinator, Airport Coordination Limited. “Airlines have discretion as to how to use the limits in their individual timetables,” she said.
One of the UK’s largest airlines, Virgin Atlantic, said in a statement that it was ready to deliver on a full schedule this summer.
“However, we support proactive measures taken by Heathrow to reduce disruption, as long as the proposed measures do not disproportionately affect domestic carriers at the airport,” the airline said. “Action should be based on thorough analyzes that show the most effective measures to improve the situation and keep customers moving.”
Summer travel in Europe has been marked by chaos at airports as airlines have struggled to keep up with the growing number of passengers, eager to travel following pandemic shutdowns and shortages of staff. Last week, the Scandinavian airline SAS filed for bankruptcy protection after their pilots went on strike. There have also been withdrawals from airports and airlines across Europe, amid frustration over long hours and low wages that have not kept pace with rising inflation.
Other airports have introduced similar measures. Last month, Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam introduced a capacity ceiling, citing a lack of security staff and demand for flights that far exceeded expectations, and London’s Gatwick Airport last month also said it would reduce flights for July and August. British Airways said it would operate on a reduced schedule by 11 percent through October.
Holland-Kaye said Heathrow had begun recruiting in November, pending high demand for summer travel, but that some key roles were still understaffed, including ground traders, as airlines agree to load and unload luggage, turn over aircraft and provide check-in services to passengers.