uTo prevent a collapse, London’s Heathrow airport pulls the emergency brake and resorts to drastic measures. The Heathrow operator has urged airlines to stop selling tickets for the next two months until September 11. This is to avoid further overloading and flight cancellations. For weeks, passengers at Heathrow have been suffering from flights, queues and stranded luggage, some of which have been canceled at very short notice. The main reason for the bottlenecks is a lack of staff. As recently as Monday, Heathrow Airlines had given last-minute orders to cancel 60 flights.
The airport is now introducing an upper limit of 100,000 departing passengers per day. “By making this intervention now, our goal is to protect flights for the vast majority of passengers at Heathrow this summer,” said John Holland-Kaye, the airport operator’s chief executive officer. According to internal estimates, the airport was headed for up to 104,000 departing passengers, which would have overwhelmed it. Several airlines had already canceled a large number of flights. British Airways announced a week ago that it would cancel another 10,300 flights in the summer. Together with earlier cancellations, the parent company IAG has canceled around 30,000 joints, around 13 percent of the planned capacity by autumn.
Heathrow boss Holland-Kaye apologized to travelers whose flight schedules are affected by the newly introduced cap, diverted to other airports or canceled altogether. They want to “give confidence that everyone who travels through the airport has a safe and reliable journey and arrives at their destination with their luggage.” The latter in particular has often been lacking recently.
The needs at London Airport are considered great in the industry. Pictures showed more stranded suitcases than elsewhere, and complaints from travelers were louder. Heathrow denies that its own failures have led to the chaos. Within four months, the number of passengers had grown as strongly as before in forty years. “Nevertheless, we managed to ensure that the vast majority were able to start their trips at Easter and the school holidays.” During the Corona period, all airports had laid off many employees. As early as November, the airport had started recruiting employees again.
Also Gatwick and Schiphol airports with caps
The emergency brake is intended to prevent a further increase in the number of passengers. Gatwick, London’s second busiest airport, has already capped outbound flights to 825 a day in July. That is less than the pre-Corona record of 950 flights. Easyjet is particularly affected, the low-cost airline has canceled around 11,000 flights for the summer. Amsterdam Airport Schiphol also introduced a cap of 67,500 departing passengers for July, which is why KLM has to limit ticket sales. Frankfurt Airport has not set such a value. However, Fraport has lowered the benchmark number of aircraft allowed to take off and land per hour from 104 to 106 to 94 to 96. In peak hours this leads to a restriction. Some flights were postponed to off-peak hours.
For the Hessian vacation start in a week and a half, Fraport now hopes to be able to handle peak days with more than 200,000 passengers, more than the Heathrow upper limit – albeit with waiting times for travelers. The situation at German airports had recently eased slightly. There were still queues in front of counters and security checks, sometimes with waiting times of more than an hour. Hamburg Airport asserted that none of the travelers had missed their flight. Baggage claim for arriving travelers is now seen as the bottleneck in many places. The focus of its emergency measures at Frankfurt Airport is on enabling passengers and luggage to take off on the same plane. Therefore, after arrival, passengers have to wait longer for their suitcases.
EU wants to relax slot rules for airlines
For the summer, airlines do not have to fear that necessary cancellations due to bottlenecks at airports and in their own operations will lead to the loss of start time windows (slots). The EU Commission proposed on Tuesday to reintroduce the rule, suspended during the pandemic, that slots must be used 80 percent, from November. Until then, the reduced rate of currently 64 percent should apply. The EU Parliament and Council still have to agree. The slot rules should also become more flexible, with pandemics, natural disasters and conflicts such as the war in Ukraine allowing exceptions to the 80 percent quota. However, staff shortages are not mentioned as a reason.
Aviation has been through a roller coaster ride in the pandemic. More than 80 million passengers traveled via Heathrow in 2019. In 2021, when the corona restrictions paralyzed the travel industry, it was less than 20 million. For 2022, the airport now expects a good 54 million passengers. Heathrow should thus once again become the busiest airport in Europe. Frankfurt Airport expects up to 46 million passengers.