One Of Europe’s Busiest Airports Tells Airlines To Stop Selling Summer Tickets Amid Travel Chaos


London’s Heathrow Airport has told airlines to stop selling tickets this summer in order to keep passenger numbers at manageable levels, chief executive John Holland-Kaye announced on Tuesday, as the entire sector battles delays, disruptions and cancellations amid rebounding travel and staff shortages.

Key Facts

Heathrow will cap the number of daily departing passengers at 100,000 between July 12 and September 11 to minimize disruption, Holland-Kaye said.

Beyond that number, service drops to an unacceptable level for travelers, he added, pointing to recent last-minute cancellations, bags not traveling with passengers and long queue times.

According to its latest figures in 2018, around 110,000 passengers left Heathrow daily, though these numbers—as well as staffing levels—would have plummeted since the start of the pandemic in 2020.

Despite deep cuts at the airport already, the latest forecasts suggest airlines plan to have a total of 104,000 passengers a day fly out of Heathrow, Holland-Kaye said, though only 1,500 of these seats have been sold at the moment.

Holland-Kaye said the airport is asking airlines to stop selling more summer tickets to keep passenger numbers as close to the 100,000 cap as possible in order “to limit the impact on passengers.”

Holland-Kaye acknowledged the cap will inevitably mean some journeys will be moved to another day, another airport or be canceled entirely but said the limit is intended to “protect flights for the vast majority of passengers.”

Surprising Fact

Before the pandemic, Heathrow regularly topped the leaderboards as one of the world’s busiest airports and the busiest in Europe. It maintained its top position in Europe during the early days of the pandemic but has since slipped down the leaderboard. Paris’ Charles De Gaulle Airport is now Europe’s busiest.

Key Background

The travel and tourism industry, particularly aviation, was one of the hardest hit during the Covid-19 pandemic as international and domestic travel ground to a halt. The crash of international tourism alone could have cost the global economy more than $4 trillion in 2020 and 2021, according to a United Nations report. As more countries lift restrictions and passenger numbers rebound, airports around the world have been engulfed in chaos amid flight delays, cancellations, and baggage issues. Though American airports have not escaped, Europe has been particularly hard hit, with more than double the number of cancellations. Airlines and airports, many of which shrugged off employees during the pandemic, have largely blamed staffing levels and their inability to recruit for the disruption, though poor weather and staff shortages due to Covid-19—primarily among airlines ditching masking requirements—also contribute.

Big Number

22,000. That’s nearly how many flight delays there were around the world on Monday, according to tracking data from FlightAware. Europe was hit by numerous delays, data suggests, with more than half of flights out of London’s Gatwick delayed and other delays from Frankfurt (41%), Heathrow (36%) Split, Croatia (35%),and Amsterdam Schiphol (31%). European airlines particularly hard hit by delays include Air France (53%), easyJet (44%), Lufthansa (42%) and British Airways (37%). There were also more than 2,100 cancellations around the world, with numerous Chinese airports canceling double digit percentages of their flights. Shanghai Hongqiao International, one of the busiest airports in the world, canceled nearly a quarter of its flights.

What To Watch For

Demand amid spiraling costs. Major U.S. airlines are set to report quarterly earnings from Wednesday. According to Reuters, these are set to be the strongest earnings since the start of the pandemic. Rising fuel costs, soaring inflation and a possible recession looming on the horizon could all dampen spending for the second half of the year, analysts told Reuters.

Further Reading

More Than 10,000 Flight Delays Today Worldwide — Here Are The Big Trouble Spots (Forbes)

Demand, costs in focus as U.S. airlines report earnings (Reuters)