London Heathrow Airport has asked airlines to stop selling seats on flights over the summer after introducing a temporary cap on daily departing passengers for the very first time.
Between 12 July and 11 September 2022, a limit of up to 100,000 passengers will be able to depart from Heathrow — the biggest airport in the UK and among the busiest in the world.
The airport said the move was required in order to control the amount of disruption to passengers, after months of excessive airport queues, flight cancellations, and lost or delayed baggage.
Airports around the globe have faced significant challenges, largely due to significant demand for air travel, coupled with COVID-19 absences and underlying staff shortages.
Prior to the pandemic, Heathrow would regularly see between 110,000 and 125,000 daily passengers during the European summer.
It comes after the UK government already called on airlines to limit the amount of tickets sold to passengers while the industry ramps back up, however the airport claims more intervention is required.
“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,” Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye wrote in a open letter.
“We have therefore made the difficult decision to introduce a capacity cap with effect from 12 July to 11 September.”
“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,” he added.
If no further tickets were sold on flights during the capped period, around 1,500 passengers per day would be impacted, however up to 4,000 passengers could see their ticket changed or cancelled, Heathrow said.
“We are asking our airline partners to stop selling summer tickets to limit the impact on passengers,” Holland-Kaye said.
He added that some “critical functions” were still “significantly under resourced” at the airport, including ground handlers, which are often subcontracted by airlines.
“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,” Holland-Kaye added, which he said has resulted in long wait times, bags not travelling with passengers and flight delays and cancellations.
Heathrow joins a growing list of European airports introducing unprecedented passenger caps to temporarily ease the pressure of understaffing, including London Gatwick and Amsterdam Schiphol.
Airlines are also struggling to re-hire and re-train staff in the wake of COVID-19 redundancies at the same pace as travel demand, which has seen British Airways cancel some 30,000 flights in recent weeks alone.