Heathrow extends passenger cap to end of October


London’s Heathrow airport has extended a cap on passenger numbers until the end of October to avoid more last-minute disruption and delays because of staff shortages.

Heathrow said on Monday that no more than 100,000 people would be able to fly each day from the airport until October 29, the end of aviation’s summer season.

The airport added this would “provide passengers with confidence ahead of their half-term getaways” after the limit on numbers had significantly improved services since it was introduced last month in response to severe disruption earlier in the summer.

The cap was originally scheduled to run until September 11, and led to a furious row with some airlines, who were taken by surprise by the measure and objected to being forced to disrupt passengers’ journeys at short notice.

At the time, the airport also asked airlines to stop selling tickets for the next two months to limit delays and rebook passengers.

However, Heathrow said Monday’s decision to extend the cap was taken in consultation with airlines, and that it could be ended earlier if “improved resource levels are evident and the airport continues to see sustained operational improvements”.

The airport’s management has said the main staffing shortages are at ground handling companies, which are subcontracted by airlines to run services ranging from refuelling to check-in and baggage handling.

In a sign of how relations between airport and airlines are still frayed, Heathrow called on airlines to be “transparent” over how many new people they were recruiting to help lift the cap as soon as possible.

“We want to remove the cap as soon as possible, but we can only do so when we are confident that everyone operating at the airport has the resources to deliver the service our passengers deserve,” Heathrow’s chief commercial officer Ross Baker said.

Several other busy airports in Europe, including London Gatwick and Amsterdam Schiphol have introduced similar limits on passenger numbers in an effort to stop disruption, which plagued travellers earlier this summer with a barrage of delays, short-notice cancellations and baggage problems.

Signs are emerging that these passenger caps, along with thousands of advance flight cancellations by airlines, have helped ease on-the-day disruption at airports.

Just 0.34 per cent of flights from UK airports were cancelled in the first week of August, compared with more than 5 per cent in the last week of June, according to figures from aviation data company OAG.

Separately, British Airways restarted the sale of short-haul ticket sales from Heathrow on Monday, after suspending them following the introduction of the passenger cap.

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