LONDON — Heathrow Airport said Tuesday it would limit passenger numbers until mid-September, citing staff shortages that have led to long lines, delays, lost luggage and last-minute flight cancellations.
In an open letter to passengersHeathrow’s chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, called on airlines to stop selling new tickets as critical functions at the airport have been significantly curtailed.
“We recognize that this will mean that some summer trips will be rescheduled or cancelled, and we apologize to those whose travel plans are affected,” he said. In recent weeks, there have been periods when the service has dropped to levels that were “not acceptable,” he said.
Mr Holland-Kaye said the airport would not be able to handle more than 100,000 departures per day, just short of the 104,000 it was expected to serve on average. He asked airlines to limit the number of tickets sold to bring the number back below the 100,000 mark.
When asked how Heathrow would enforce the capacity cap, an airport spokeswoman, Hannah Smith, said this would be overseen by an independent coordinator, Airport Coordination Limited.
The airport coordinator said in a statement that complying with Heathrow’s request was voluntary, as there was no mechanism in Britain that allowed it to remove assigned runways from airlines. The company said it would calculate the required passenger reduction for each airline and allow airlines to decide which flights to cancel or whether to comply with the request at all.
Virgin Atlantic, one of Britain’s largest airlines, said in a statement it was poised to deliver its full schedule this summer.
“However, we support proactive measures that Heathrow is taking to reduce disruptions, as long as the proposed measures do not disproportionately affect home carriers at the airport,” the airline said. “Action must be based on a thorough analysis that shows the most effective measures to improve the situation and keep customers moving.”
Summer travel in Europe has been marred by chaos at airports as airlines struggled to sustain staff shortages amid a surge of passengers eager to travel after pandemic lockdowns. Last week, Scandinavian airline SAS has filed for bankruptcy protection after the pilots went on strike. There have also been strikes by airport and airline staff across Europe amid frustration over long hours and low wages that have failed to keep up with rising inflation.
Other airports have taken similar measures. Last month Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam introduced a capacity limitciting a shortage of security personnel and demand for air travel far exceeding expectations, and London’s Gatwick Airport also said last month that it would reduce the number of flights for July and August† British Airways said it would operate at 11 percent on a shortened schedule through October.
Mr Holland-Kaye said Heathrow had started recruiting in November in anticipation of high demand for summer travel, but some key positions were still understaffed, including ground handlers, who are hired by airlines to load bags. and unloading, turning planes around and passenger check-in services.