12 Jul, 2022 21:03 

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London airport stops selling tickets

London’s Heathrow Airport is capping the number of passengers allowed to fly out, citing insufficient resources

Long lines at Heathrow Airport © Getty Images / Carl Court

Heathrow Airport in London has ordered airlines to stop selling tickets for the rest of the summer, insisting it must limit itself to 100,000 passengers per day until September 11, an open letter to passengers on Tuesday stated. 

The airport’s CEO, John Holland-Kaye, wrote that “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.” Acknowledging massive flight delays, failures in baggage transportation, and last-minute cancellations, he blamed there being too many passengers and not enough employees.

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At Heathrow, we have seen 40 years of passenger growth in just four months,” Holland-Kaye stated in the letter, claiming the airport had been recruiting since November in anticipation of demand spikes over the summer and promising to have as many security workers by the end of July as the airport employed prior to the pandemic.

Despite these promises, Holland-Kaye said an excessive number of seats had already been sold, blaming airlines for not canceling more flights when they were offered the chance to do so without risking future cuts to their flight slot allotment. 

A government “amnesty” allowed airports to cancel more flights in advance than was previously permitted. Airlines were given until last Friday to give back airport slots they weren’t planning on using without running the usual risk of being denied a larger number of slots in the future. 

However, Holland-Kaye warned that “even despite the amnesty, daily departing seats over the summer will average 104,000,” which is 4,000 seats more than the airport is prepared to handle. With about 1,500 of those 4,000 daily seats sold already, the CEO is hoping to prevent further bookings to “limit the impact on passengers.

Heathrow, like many other European airports, is suffering from major staffing shortages, having laid off numerous employees during the Covid-19 pandemic while others quit. While airlines struggle to fill thousands of vacancies, passengers stuck at home over the past two years are eager to take advantage of the lifting of vaccine and testing mandates to travel once again, an outcome airline industry representatives say the airports should have seen coming.

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International Air Transport Association Director General Willie Walsh pointed out that “airlines have been predicting stronger traffic than Heathrow has been predicting,” arguing “[Heathrow] clearly got it completely wrong” and calling the London hub’s demands “ridiculous.

Prior to the pandemic, Heathrow averaged about 220,000 passengers per day between arrivals and departures. Gatwick, the other major London airport, has already imposed passenger caps for the summer.

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