March was Heathrow Airport’s busiest month for passenger traffic numbers since the pandemic started, following the United Kingdom’s landmark drop of travel restrictions.
According to the main travel hub’s March statistics, it saw 4.1 million passengers filter through the airport, a major increase from the 0.5 million during the same time last year.
“It is fantastic to see the airport coming back to life after two years, and I want to thank all Team Heathrow colleagues for working together to serve our passengers,” said CEO John Holland-Kaye.
“Everyone at Heathrow is doing everything we can to make sure passengers get on their way as smoothly and safely as possible.”
The airport said the demand is being mostly driven by outbound leisure during weekends and school holidays as “Brits make the most of the freedom” to use vouchers from cancelled trips during the last two years.
Heathrow said it expects its summer peak to be almost as busy as 2019 levels, and the airport is set to hire 12,000 new crew members to mitigate the rise in demand.
However, inbound leisure and business travel “remains weak”, Heathrow said, as high COVID-19 cases remain in the UK, and many restrictions are still in place across Europe.
From 18 March, the UK dropped the last pandemic related restrictions, no longer requiring passengers to take a COVID-19 test before entering the country.
Hotel quarantine was scrapped, and following the changes, Heathrow, Virgin Atlantic and British Airways also slashed mask mandates that were enforced early in 2020.
These rule changes have been a positive step for the aviation industry, as it has suffered from the continuous lockdowns and border closures across the globe since 2020.
Heathrow said while the growth in demand is “very welcome”, the airport is unsure if outbound leisure travel is sustainable amid the escalating war between Ukraine and Russia, high fuel prices and potential new COVID-19 variants.
“The aviation sector has been rebuilding capacity ahead of a summer peak, so resources are stretched,” said Heathrow.
“Heathrow is working closely with airlines and ground handlers to make sure this increase in demand can be met while keeping passengers safe.”
The airport added that because many global markets are still requiring strict COVID-19 testing and vaccination status checks, it has caused congestion at peak times.
“Heathrow is advising passengers to check with their airline to confirm when they should get to the airport,” said Heathrow.
Heathrow’s passenger levels dropped the lowest in 2021 in decades, only reporting 19.4 million in yearly traffic, compared to 22.1 million in 2020.