Travel Alert July 2022: London Heathrow Airport Advisory
Heathrow gives the heave-ho?
If London Heathrow Airport is in your travel plans over the next month or so, you may want to consider delaying your travel — or, at least, keep yourself updated as to the latest information — due to a decreased limit of capacity which was imposed by the airport earlier this month.
Travel Alert July 2022: London Heathrow Airport Advisory
In an open letter to passengers on the capacity cap, Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said:
“The global aviation industry is recovering from the pandemic, but the legacy of COVID continues to pose challenges for the entire sector as it rebuilds capacity. At Heathrow, we have seen 40 years of passenger growth in just four months. Despite this, we managed to get the vast majority of passengers away smoothly on their journeys through the Easter and half term peaks. This was only possible because of close collaboration and planning with our airport partners including airlines, airline ground handlers and Border Force.
“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.
“However, over the past few weeks, as departing passenger numbers have regularly exceeded 100,000 a day, we have started to see periods when service drops to a level that is not acceptable: long queue times, delays for passengers requiring assistance, bags not travelling with passengers or arriving late, low punctuality and last-minute cancellations. This is due to a combination of reduced arrivals punctuality (as a result of delays at other airports and in European airspace) and increased passenger numbers starting to exceed the combined capacity of airlines, airline ground handlers and the airport. Our colleagues are going above and beyond to get as many passengers away as possible, but we cannot put them at risk for their own safety and wellbeing.
“Last month, the DfT and CAA wrote to the sector asking us all to review our plans for the summer and ensure we were prepared to manage expected passenger levels safely and minimise further disruption. Ministers subsequently implemented a slot amnesty programme to encourage airlines to remove flights from their schedules with no penalty. We held off putting additional controls on passenger numbers until this amnesty process concluded last Friday and we had a clearer view of the reductions that airlines have made.
“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. We have therefore made the difficult decision to introduce a capacity cap with effect from 12 July to 11 September. Similar measures to control passenger demand have been implemented at other airports both in the UK and around the world.
“Our assessment is that the maximum number of daily departing passengers that airlines, airline ground handlers and the airport can collectively serve over the summer is no more than 100,000. The latest forecasts indicate that even despite the amnesty, daily departing seats over the summer will average 104,000 — giving a daily excess of 4,000 seats. 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.
“By making this intervention now, our objective is to protect flights for the vast majority of passengers at Heathrow this summer and to give confidence that everyone who does travel through the airport will have a safe and reliable journey and arrive at their destination with their bags. We recognise that this will mean some summer journeys will either be moved to another day, another airport or be cancelled and we apologise to those whose travel plans are affected.
“The airport will still be busy, as we are trying to get as many people away as possible, and we ask you to bear with us if it takes a little longer to check in, go through security or collect your bag than you are used to at Heathrow. We ask passengers to help, by making sure they have completed all their COVID requirements online before they come to the airport, by not arriving earlier than 3 hours before their flight, by being ready for security with laptops out of bags and liquids, aerosols and gels in a sealed 100ml plastic bag, and by using e-gates in immigration where eligible. We are all recruiting as fast as we can and aim to return to the excellent service you should expect from the UK’s hub airport as soon as possible.”
Emirates values our partnerships with airport stakeholders across our network with whom we engage continuously, and collaboratively, to secure our flight operations and ensure minimal customer disruption, particularly over the peak travel months.
It is therefore highly regrettable that LHR last evening gave us 36 hours to comply with capacity cuts, of a figure that appears to be plucked from thin air. Their communications not only dictated the specific flights on which we should throw out paying passengers, but also threatened legal action for non-compliance.
This is entirely unreasonable and unacceptable, and we reject these demands.
At London Heathrow airport (LHR), our ground handling and catering – run by dnata, part of the Emirates Group – are fully ready and capable of handling our flights. So the crux of the issue lies with the central services and systems which are the responsibility of the airport operator.
Emirates is a key and steadfast operator at LHR, having reinstated 6 daily A380 flights since October 2021. From our past 10 months of regularly high seat loads, our operational requirements cannot be a surprise to the airport.
Now, with blatant disregard for consumers, they wish to force Emirates to deny seats to tens of thousands of travellers who have paid for, and booked months ahead, their long-awaited package holidays or trips to see their loved ones. And this, during the super peak period with the upcoming UK holidays, and at a time when many people are desperate to travel after 2 years of pandemic restrictions.
Emirates believes in doing the right thing by our customers. However, re-booking the sheer numbers of potentially impacted passengers is impossible with all flights running full for the next weeks, including at other London airports and on other airlines. Adding to the complexity, 70% of our customers from LHR are headed beyond Dubai to see loved ones in far flung destinations, and it will be impossible to find them new onward connections at short notice.
Moving some of our passenger operations to other UK airports at such short notice is also not realistic. Ensuring ground readiness to handle and turnaround a widebody long-haul aircraft with 500 passengers onboard is not as simple as finding a parking spot at a mall.
The bottomline is, the LHR management team are cavalier about travellers and their airline customers. All the signals of a strong travel rebound were there, and for months, Emirates has been publicly vocal about the matter. We planned ahead to get to a state of readiness to serve customers and travel demand, including rehiring and training 1,000 A380 pilots in the past year.
LHR chose not to act, not to plan, not to invest. Now faced with an “airmageddon” situation due to their incompetence and non-action, they are pushing the entire burden – of costs and the scramble to sort the mess – to airlines and travellers.
The shareholders of London Heathrow should scrutinise the decisions of the LHR management team.
Given the tremendous value that the aviation community generates for the UK economy and communities, we welcome the action taken by the UK Department for Transport and Civil Aviation Authority to seek information from LHR on their response plans, systems resilience, and to explain the seemingly arbitrary cap of 100,000 daily passengers. Considering LHR handled 80.9 million passengers annually in 2019, or a daily average of 219,000, the cap represents greater than a 50% cut at a time when LHR claims to have 70% of ground handling resources in place.
Until further notice, Emirates plans to operate as scheduled to and from LHR.
Compromise Between Emirates Airline and London Heathrow Airport
The President of Emirates Airline and the CEO of Heathrow Airport held a constructive meeting this morning. Emirates agreed the airline was ready and willing to work with the airport to remediate the situation over the next 2 weeks, to keep demand and capacity in balance and provide passengers with a smooth and reliable journey through Heathrow this summer.
Emirates has capped further sales on its flights out of Heathrow until mid-August to assist Heathrow in its resource ramp up, and is working to adjust capacity.
In the meantime, Emirates flights from Heathrow operate as scheduled and ticketed passengers may travel as booked.
Flight Waivers, Delays and Cancellations
If you are traveling to or from London Heathrow Airport over the next month or so, expect delays and cancellations of flights. Keep up to date on the latest information pertaining to this advisory which may adversely affect your travel plans. Better yet, postponing or canceling your trip might be a better option — no matter which mode of travel you plan on taking.
If you have a flight scheduled, your flight may be delayed or canceled — and you may be eligible for a waiver of a fee to change your itinerary.
Four airlines have issued travel alerts as a result of the capacity control by London Heathrow Airport:
American Airlines has issued a travel alert for London Heathrow Airport for Thursday, July 14, 2022 through Sunday, August 7, 2022; and Saturday, December 31, 2022 is the last day on which tickets must be reissued and rebooked travel must begin.
Delta Air Lines has issued a travel alert for London Heathrow Airport for Monday, July 25, 2022 through Wednesday, August 10, 2022; and Saturday, September 10, 2022 is the last day on which tickets must be reissued and rebooked travel must begin.
British Airways has issued a travel alert for London Heathrow Airport through Sunday, August 7, 2022; and Saturday, September 30, 2023 is the last day on which tickets must be reissued and rebooked travel must begin via a voucher.
Virgin Atlantic Airways has issued a travel alert for London Heathrow Airport — along with flights which have been canceled through Wednesday, August 3, 2022. Travel vouchers are available upon request to customers who booked their tickets between Wednesday, June 1, 2022 and Thursday, June 23, 2022.
Final Boarding Call
Be sure to contact your airline or transportation provider for the latest information pertaining to your travels — if they are adversely affected — and please: travel safely.