(CNN) — London Heathrow, one of the world’s busiest airports, has taken the extraordinary step of asking airlines to stop selling tickets for outbound travel this summer.
Here’s what you need to know about the measure.
Why is it happening?
Like many airports around the world, Heathrow is struggling to cope with staff shortages and strong passenger demand after two years of pandemic disruption.
John Holland-Kaye, CEO of Heathrow, said in an open letter to passengers on July 12 that “in recent weeks, as the number of departing passengers has regularly exceeded 100,000 per day, we are starting to see periods where service drops to a level that is not acceptable.”
This temporary measure has been introduced to keep further disruption to a minimum.
When does it start?
The cap will take effect immediately from July 12 and will last until at least September 11.
I have already booked my ticket. What should I do?
You do not have to do anything. Your trip will proceed as scheduled unless your airline contacts you with information to the contrary. Keep an eye on your email and text notifications and check the airline’s app or website before you go to the airport.
If you want to reschedule or cancel your flight, check the airline’s website for instructions.
“It will still be busy at the airport,” Holland-Kaye said in the July 12 letter. “We ask that you please be patient 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 met all their Covid requirements online before coming to the airport, arriving no earlier than three hours before their flight, standing by security with laptops out of bags and liquids, aerosols and gels in a 100ml sealed plastic bag, and by using e-gates at immigration where eligible.”
I’m traveling through Heathrow. Will I be affected?
Again, your flight will go ahead unless you hear otherwise from your airline. Keep an eye out for updates as you prepare for your trip.
What should I do if my flight is cancelled?
Further disruptions are certainly in the cards, and some travelers will be affected by their flights being rescheduled to another day, airport, or canceled altogether.
Passengers should be prepared to be flexible and in case they need to change their travel plans or get their flights refunded.
What disruptions have passengers experienced?
Last-minute flight cancellations have been a major problem this summer. In June 2022, they rose 188% on outbound flights from the UK, compared to June 2019, according to aviation analytics firm Cirium – despite scheduled flights falling 22% last month.
Holland-Kaye said in the open letter that while recruitment for the summer season began last November, “new colleagues are learning fast, but are not yet at full speed.”
Ground handlers, in particular, are significantly under-resourced, Holland-Kaye says, explaining that they are the workers “hired by airlines to provide check-in staff, load and unload bags, and turn over planes.”
How do these numbers compare to pre-pandemic travel?
In 2018, the daily number of passengers traveling through Heathrow was almost 220,000, split between arrivals and departures.
Can I still buy a ticket departing from Heathrow?
Heathrow’s airline partners have been asked to stop selling summer tickets for unsold seats. So while it is still possible to book last minute flights, this opportunity will likely end soon and you run the risk of cancellation or disruption.
Fares are currently very high for these few remaining flights, due to strong demand. We recommend travelers to look for alternative options.
What are the alternatives?
Consider flying from the other UK airports — Birmingham International is just over an hour by train from London Euston — or by train or ferry.
If you’re traveling this summer, try to be flexible, travel early in the day if you can, and get travel insurance.
Is only Heathrow affected or are there other airports?
Holland-Kaye said in the open letter that “similar measures to manage passenger demand have been implemented at other airports, both in the UK and around the world.” This final step may encourage other hubs to take more vigorous action as well.
How do airlines react?
A slot amnesty was introduced last month to encourage airlines to cancel flights from schedules without being penalized.
Holland-Kaye said in the letter that “some airlines have taken significant measures, but others have not, and we believe further action is needed now to ensure a safe and reliable journey for passengers.”
CNN has reached out to British Airways, the UK’s flag carrier based at Heathrow, for comment on the situation.
CNN’s Livvy Doherty and Anna Stewart contributed to this report.