London’s Heathrow airport has warned of slowing demand for flights over the winter, as a predicted rebound in Covid-19 and the cost of living crisis loom over the travel sector.
However, Europe’s biggest airport said it expected peak days during the Christmas period “to be very busy”.
“While we face many economic headwinds, as well as the legacy of Covid, our aim is to get back to full capacity,” Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said. “Our focus over the next 12 months is to get capacity, service levels and resilience back to the high levels that they were before the pandemic.”
After a big drop in passenger numbers earlier in the pandemic, the airport scrambled to boost staff numbers as travellers returned this summer. Heathrow said it had recorded the busiest summer of any European hub airport.
However, the rise in demand and a shortage of ground staff caused severe disruption at Heathrow over the peak summer period, resulting in thousands of flight delays and cancellations that angered customers and prompted a cap of 100,000 passengers per day.
The limit was originally scheduled to run until September 11 and led to a row with some airlines, notably Emirates, which were taken by surprise by the measure and objected to being forced to disrupt passengers’ journeys at short notice.
Emirates described the cap as “entirely unreasonable and unacceptable” and warned of “airmageddon” at the hub over the summer.
However, the UK’s busiest airport said the cap had kept “supply and demand in balance” and that “the vast majority of passengers travelling through Heathrow this summer had a very good experience”.
The cap is scheduled to be lifted on October 29, the end of the aviation industry’s summer season.
“Resource levels across the airport, airlines and their ground handlers have been increasing.” Holland-Kaye said. “We are working with our airline partners to develop a more targeted mechanism, which protects passenger service during peak periods.”
About 5.8mn people passed through Heathrow in September, 15 per cent below 2019 levels but more than double the 2.6mn recorded in the same month last year.