Heathrow blames airlines for flight chaos, says cap to stay

LONDON — Heathrow warned that there’s no prospect of lifting a cap on flights until airlines boost the number of ground personnel, saying carriers were too slow to combat staffing shortage that contributed to the travel chaos engulfing Europe this summer.

The airport operator said Tuesday that a limit of 100,000 daily departing passengers announced on July 12 and originally due to run for two months “will remain in place until airlines increase their ground handler resource.”

In a combative earnings release, the UK hub sought to lay the blame for the curbs squarely at the door of carriers, which it said had failed to increase the number of their ground handlers since the start of the year, despite surging travel demand. The airport, Europe’s busiest prior to the coronavirus crisis, met with a backlash from passengers and resistance from airlines including Dubai-based Emirates when it revealed the flight restrictions after initially suggesting it had escaped the worst of Europe’s travel crisis.

Heathrow said its own resources are sufficient to cope with about 85% of the traffic seen in 2019, which is roughly in line with current demand. About 1,300 people have been hired in the past 6 months and the number of security personnel is about the same as it was pre-pandemic. Airline ground handlers, by contrast, still have no more than 70% of pre-Covid resources available, CEO John Holland-Kaye said in the statement.

“We took swift action to protect consumers by applying a cap on departing passenger numbers, better aligned with their resources,” the airport said in the statement. “Airline ground handler performance has been much more stable since the cap came into effect, and we have seen a marked improvement in punctuality and baggage performance.”

Heathrow said the limit on flights is 50% higher than at Amsterdam’s rival Schiphol hub, something it claimed indicated superior planning. – Bloomberg / Pic by Bloomberg