Heathrow to remove passenger cap from Sunday but warns it could return for Christmas

Passengers queue inside the departures terminal of Terminal 2 at Heathrow Airport in London, Britain, June 27, 2022. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Heathrow wants to avoid the travel chaos seen this summer. Photo: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

Heathrow has said it will remove its cap on passenger numbers from October 30 but warned it could be reintroduced on some of the busiest days to avoid travel chaos over Christmas.

The airport operator, which on 30 October is due to lift the current 100,000 passenger per day cap introduced during the summer holiday travel chaos, said it was in talks with airlines over a cap on “peak days in the lead up to Christmas”.

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“We are working with airlines to agree a highly targeted mechanism that, if needed, would align supply and demand on a small number of peak days in the lead up to Christmas. This would encourage demand into less busy periods, protecting the heavier peaks, and avoiding flight cancellations due to resource pressures,” it said.

Europe’s busiest airport also admitted it is still 25,000 staff short to cope with passenger numbers at peak times.

Heathrow said demand had grown over the summer but had not fully recovered. The airport expects total passenger numbers of between 60m and 62m in 2022 – around 25% fewer than in 2019.

“Headwinds of a global economic crisis, war in Ukraine and the impact of Covid-19 mean we are unlikely to return to pre-pandemic demand for a number of years, except at peak times,” the business said.

Heathrow revealed underlying losses of £442m in the year to date “as regulated income fails to cover costs, adding to the £4bn in the prior two years”.

Speaking on BBC radio 4’s Today programme, Heathrow’s chief executive John Holland-Kaye said: "We don’t want to have a cap at all, we want to get back to full capacity as soon as possible. The reason for having a cap is to make sure we keep supply and demand in balance. It was absolutely the right thing to do over the summer.

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"It’s been a better summer than people had expected. The service was much better than people expected, almost back to 2019 levels, based on the feedback people give us. The passenger numbers were also better and we went from being one of the quietest airports in Europe to the busiest airport in Europe. Unfortunately we are still loss making but I hope if we can get the right regulatory settlement that can change. But it’s not been easy, it’s definitely been challenging."

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