London Heathrow’s passenger numbers remained nearly 50% down on pre-COVID pandemic levels last month. 

The details behind the drop

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Heathrow was the world’s busiest international airport. In February 2020, about 5.4 million passengers travelled through the airport.

But now, figures released by the British airport shows that only 2.9 million passengers travelled from the airport in February. 

This figure is 15% below the forecasted total, demonstrating just how slowly the public is returning to travel levels before the pandemic. 

London Heathrow stated that leisure travel is “recovering strongly” but the demand for inbound flights “remains suppressed” by coronavirus testing and quarantine requirements in nearly two-thirds of the international markets it serves. 

The British airline also noted current events and their impact – referring to concerns surrounding the war in Europe, longer flight times as a result of avoiding certain airspace, and higher fuel prices as other concerning factors that impact recovery in passenger numbers.

“While we hope that these will be removed, we also face headwinds from higher fuel prices, longer flight times to destinations impacted by airspace closures, concerns from US travellers over war in Europe and the likelihood of new ‘Variants of Concern’, which together create huge uncertainty over the passenger forecasts this year”. 

Hope surrounding Summer 2022

According to data received from its airline customers regarding forward bookings, Heathrow is expecting a busy summer holidays period. Its current forecasts show that Heathrow will enjoy traffic levels up to 85% of pre-pandemic levels. 

While this is good news for the British airport, it comes with some trepidation as check-in areas are “likely to feel even busier” because of additional pre-departure checks. 

To cope with this, the airport has launched a recruitment drive to employ 12,000 new staff and has plans in place to reopen Terminal 4 before July. 

Even with the above in place, the airport stressed concern over the “Border Force’s ability to scale up to meet demand”.

Heathrow Chief Executive John Holland-Kaye said:

Aviation’s recovery remains overshadowed by war and Covid uncertainty,

But we need to ensure we are geared up to meet peak potential demand this summer and are relying on the CAA to make a fair financial settlement that incentivises investment to maintain passenger service and encourages airlines and Heathrow to work together to grow passenger numbers.

These figures released by London Heathrow highlight clearly how much of an impact the pandemic had on the aviation industry, and how long it will take to recover from that impact. But with increased demand comes the opportunity to improve on the low figures. 

Heathrow Airport was last in the news after British Airways temporarily halted all flights from London Heathrow due to an IT failure.

Have you flown through Heathrow recently? Have you noticed fewer passengers at airports? Let us know. 

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