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Heathrow asks airlines to stop selling seats to ease ch...

Newsdeck

Travel

Heathrow asks airlines to stop selling seats to ease chaos

A plane passes a sign as it comes into land at Heathrow Airport in Hounslow, Britain, 25 June 2018. EPA-EFE/NEIL HALL
By Bloomberg
12 Jul 2022 0

(Bloomberg) --London Heathrow is imposing a two-month cap on daily passenger traffic, a dramatic response by the UK’s busiest airport to the flight chaos gripping Europe as airlines and ground crew struggle to process a surge in travel demand.

The airport will limit daily passenger traffic to 100,000 departing people through Sept. 11, asking airlines to refrain from selling summer tickets, according to a release on Tuesday. Current forecasts are modeling for as many as 104,000 passengers a day over the summer, still below the roughly 125,000 passengers that left daily this time before the pandemic.

The move comes in reaction to staffing that Heathrow said is not yet “up to full speed” as it rushed to replenish its workforce with new recruits. Some key functions, like ground handlers for baggage, remain significantly under-resourced, according to the airport. The hub has been particularly hard hit by the travel disruptions, as a surge in bookings during the busiest time of travel clashed with a mass exodus of workers during the pandemic.

“Our objective is to protect flights for the vast majority of passengers at Heathrow this summer,” said John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow’s CEO. “We recognise that this will mean some summer journeys will either be moved to another day, another airport or be canceled and we apologise to those whose travel plans are affected.”

Ticket pricing and cancellation data show that Europe is where the turmoil has converged to inflict maximum pain on consumers, while Asia’s travel industry is still navigating Covid-19 and the US suffers from a shortage of pilots. Some airlines have already responded, with British Airways scrapping a swath of flights for the summer season. Heathrow said that of the 4,000 excess daily seats, only about 1,500 have currently been sold.

Capacity curbs across Europe have also caused ticket prices to surge. Deutsche Lufthansa AG has has said it will only offer seats in its most expensive booking class for the month of July as it wrestles with the new constraints. That move raised the price of even the cheapest return flights between London and Frankfurt to 1,000 euros ($1,017.4).

Last month, Gatwick airport, London’s second-biggest hub, said it would limit airlines to 825 flights a day in July and 850 a day in August, from a pre-pandemic peak of around 950 services to cope with the aviation industry’s staffing crisis. Amsterdam’s Schiphol hub also took similar measures, forcing Dutch flag carrier KLM to limit ticket sales.

In the UK, last-minute flight cancellations from the country almost tripled in June compared with the same month in 2019, even with fewer flights operated by airlines, according to data from aviation analytics firm Cirium. British Airways, whose main hub is Heathrow, has scrapped about 13% of its planned capacity this summer. That’s up from the 10% reduction it announced in May.

The staffing shortages have been exacerbated by strikes in places like Scandinavia, France and the UK. Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr has already said things probably won’t get easier in coming weeks, and that only by the winter schedule will service normalize.  The German carrier cut around a third of its workforce to 100,000 people after travel restrictions enacted to slow the spread of coronavirus

International Consolidated Airlines Group SA, the parent of British Airways, declined as much as 1.1% in London trading. The stock has lost 28% in value this year, making it the third-worst performer on the 30-member Bloomberg World Airlines Index.

By Siddharth Philip
Jul 12, 2022, 12:06 PM – Updated on Jul 12, 2022, 1:13 PM
Word Count: 638

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P.
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