London’s Heathrow Airport asked airlines to stop selling tickets for summer after implementing a cap on passenger numbers. Short staffing combined with a rebound in demand for travel has left the UK hub struggling to cope. By capping the number of travellers at 100,000 a day, Heathrow hopes to mitigate future disruption.

Summer Capacity Restricted

The new measures will come into force immediately and last until 11 September this year. The airport hopes the 100,000 passenger limit will help to ease the strain on services like baggage handling, security and check-in.

Queues at Gatwick earlier this year, Heathrow struggles
Queues at Gatwick earlier this year | BBC news

In the same period in 2019, the hub was seeing between 110,000 and 125,000 daily departures, but post-Covid staffing struggles have limited its scope. The airport says the cap is in line with limits implemented by its European rivals. Amsterdam Schiphol and London Gatwick introduced similar restrictions earlier last month, with the former reducing operations by about 16%.

Heathrow Asks Airlines to Stop Selling Tickets

Heathrow’s decision comes just after the end of the UK government’s ‘slot amnesty’, which allowed airlines to voluntarily give up flights whilst avoiding some of the usual consequences. When Travel Radar spoke to Heathrow’s Chief of Staff last month, he said the airport would wait to see how effective the amnesty was before considering whether a passenger cap was needed.

The deadline for the slot-hand-in scheme was Friday, 9 July, so Heathrow has had some time to evaluate the results. The airport’s biggest customer, British Airways, gave up 10,300 summer flights as part of the scheme, but evidently, this wasn’t enough.

British Airways, Heathrow's main customer, cancelled 10,300 flights last week
British Airways, Heathrow’s main customer, cancelled 10,300 flights last week | © Simon Dawson / Reuters

“Some airlines have taken significant action, but others have not, and we believe that further action is needed now to ensure passengers have a safe and reliable journey,” CEO John Holland-Kaye said in an open letter on Tuesday.

The airport says their schedule for summer is still averaging 104,000 outbound seats a day, 4,000 over the limit. Of those 4,000 extra seats, it said around 1,500 had already been sold to passengers. “We are asking our airline partners to stop selling summer tickets to limit the impact on passengers,” Holland-Kaye said.

What are your thoughts on Heathrow’s passenger cap? Let us know in the comments below!

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