London’s Heathrow Airport Tells Airlines to Stop Selling Summer Tickets

A photo of a British Airways plane taking off at Heathrow Airport.

Heathrow Airport asked airlines to cancel flights over the summer.
Photo: Tolga Akmen/AFP (Getty Images)

The UK is having a bit of a moment right now. Its leaders can’t stop quitting in disgrace, everything is getting really expensive because of a bad decision from a few years back, and its airports are asking airlines to stop selling tickets for flights. It’s odd being an observer of all this drama — is this how the UK has always looked to you?

While the serving government fights over who will be the country’s next leader, bosses at Heathrow Airport on the outskirts of London have asked airlines operating from the site to stop doing the one thing they’re good at – sell tickets for flights.

The news was first shared by the Associated Press earlier today, reporting that Heathrow has put a cap on daily passenger numbers.

“Britain’s busiest airport said Tuesday that it’s setting a limit of 100,000 passengers that it can handle each day through Sept. 11. The restriction is likely to result in more canceled flights even after airlines already slashed thousands of flights from their summer schedules.”

A photo of long lines of travelers at Heathrow Airport in the UK.

Long lines at Heathrow Airport, the stuff of nightmares.
Photo: Carl Court (Getty Images)

To put that into context, in 2019, the airport handled a total of 80,888,305 passengers – an average of more than 200,000 every day. At that time, Heathrow was the busiest airport in Europe.

However, when the pandemic hit, passenger numbers at the airport dropped dramatically. In 2020, it served just 22 million passengers and 2021 saw just 19 million travelers pass through its terminals.

During that time, the airport struggled with staffing levels, as it was equipped to handy four times as much traffic as it was getting. As such, it warned that it could fire and later re-hire more than 4,000 workers in an attempt to cut costs, while other employees were asked to take a pay cut to keep their positions.

Now, the airport lacks the capacity to handle booming travel numbers once again. Because of that, travelers are left waiting in long lines at check-in and security on outgoing flights, as well as at baggage claim and immigration when they fly into the UK.

A photo of planes lining up to land at Heathrow Airport in the UK.

Heathrow used to be the busiest airport in Europe.
Photo: Daniel Leal/AFP (Getty Images)

In an open letter to passengers at the London Airport, Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said:

“We started recruiting back in November last year in anticipation of capacity recovering this summer, and by the end of July, we will have as many people working in security as we had pre-pandemic. We have also reopened and moved 25 airlines into Terminal 4 to provide more space for passengers and grown our passenger service team.

“New colleagues are learning fast but are not yet up to full speed. However, there are some critical functions in the airport which are still significantly under resourced, in particular ground handlers, who are contracted by airlines to provide check-in staff, load and unload bags and turnaround aircraft. They are doing the very best they can with the resources available and we are giving them as much support possible, but this is a significant constraint to the airport’s overall capacity.”

A photo of suitcases piled up on a baggage carousel at Heathrow Airport.

Staff cuts at Heathrow led to issues for travelers arriving at the airport.
Photo: Paul Ellis/AFP (Getty Images)

Heathrow said the capacity cap will be implemented between July 12 and September 11. According to Holland-Kaye, the airport had flights for 104,000 passengers scheduled each day in this period, meaning that 4,000 seats will be cut. He added:

“On average only about 1,500 of these 4,000 daily seats have currently been sold to passengers, and so we are asking our airline partners to stop selling summer tickets to limit the impact on passengers.”

This is the second time so far this summer that Heathrow has asked airlines to limit passenger numbers passing through. At the end of June, it asked airlines operating at the site to cut 10% of flights to ensure that it wasn’t overwhelmed by rising passenger numbers.

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