Just when it looked like the chaos was over, Heathrow warned passengers might need to fly off-peak during the busy Christmas period or face a last-minute cancellation.
Although details have yet to be announced, the airport released a statement outlining its intention to potentially change flight schedules, with another cap on passenger numbers possibly in the works.
“We are working with the airlines to agree a very targeted mechanism which, if necessary, would align supply and demand on a small number of peak days in the run up to Christmas,” it read.
“This would encourage demand towards less busy periods, protecting the heaviest peaks and avoiding flight cancellations due to pressure on resources.”
The worrying news for party travelers comes as the airport prepares to lift its existing flight cap – which limits the number of passengers to 100,000 per day – on October 30. The cap, which was originally only intended to cover the busy summer period, was extended by six weeks, as it became clear that the airport was also not equipped to cope with additional demand in mid -journey.
Here we go over the key details those traveling in the run up to Christmas need to know.
Why might Heathrow introduce a festive flight cap?
The airport’s post-pandemic struggles have been well documented and the latest news suggests that Europe’s busiest airport will not return to normal service in 2022.
The hub admitted it still needed to hire and train 25,000 staff to keep up with festive demand, which it described as “a huge logistical challenge”.
The airport added: “We support, including the establishment of a recruitment task force to help fill vacancies, working closely with the government on a review of airline ground handling and by appointing a senior operational manager to invest in joint work.”
Although the airport can be seen to have had plenty of time to recruit additional staff, its heavy losses – which topped £442m this year – may mean it is reluctant to hire when demand remains unstable.
Heathrow itself said: “The 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.”
How did the airlines react to the news?
Among those calling on Heathrow to rethink another flight cap is Virgin Atlantic, which issued a stern statement urging the airport to change its “deliberately pessimistic outlook” on passenger numbers.
A spokesperson for the carrier said: ‘Heathrow is once again Europe’s busiest airport, beating its own forecast, but it continues to underplay the strength of the return in passenger demand.
“The airport has a poor track record when it comes to forecasting, having forecast only 45 million annual passengers for 2022 when in reality it will exceed 62 million. Without the summer caps, the numbers would have been even higher. students.
“Airlines have repeatedly warned of the need to use accurate forecasts to inform airport resources.”
Elsewhere in the travel industry, The Advantage Travel Partnership chief executive Julia Lo Bue-Said has declared Heathrow the “Grinch of Christmas”.
“Travelers and businesses depend on having a fully functional Heathrow at this peak time, whether they are traveling to see family and loved ones, business travelers or holidaymakers, and the airport must ensure that ‘they are planning adequately to meet the demand,’ she added.
“Introducing new caps is not acceptable and is not a viable long-term solution every time there is a peak period. The last thing the travel industry needs right now is anything that undermines consumer confidence in traveling this Christmas.
However, Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye accused airlines of keeping prices “artificially inflated”, dampening demand for passengers outside of peak periods. As tensions continue to mount – the President of the Emirates recently called on Holland-Kaye to resign – you can expect the row to continue to rumble on.
How can I avoid having my flight changed or cancelled?
With details of schedule changes or passenger caps yet to be announced, and serious airline reactions that could halt announcements, there’s no concrete way to guarantee you won’t be unaffected.
However, it would follow that opting for flights at generally less busy times would reduce the risk of cancellation. Among the plans Heathrow is considering is moving flights from busy mornings to quieter afternoon slots, so booking later in the day could be a safer option. Of course, this could well prove tricky given that many party travelers have strict schedules. Avoiding Heathrow altogether may be a reasonable option but not necessarily feasible depending on routes and prices.
Looking at how individual airlines fared with cancellations over the summer could be a useful guide for those who haven’t booked yet. Data from aviation analysts OAG showed British Airways was the worst major UK carrier for cancellations. EasyJet also fared poorly while Jet2 and the much maligned Ryanair proved to be more reliable choices.
Ensuring you have adequate travel insurance remains essential. Find comprehensive advice on how to claim compensation if your flight is canceled or delayed here.
How much chaos has Heathrow really seen this year?
In a recent column exploring the ongoing problems at Heathrow, Telegraph Travel editor Nick Trend observed that in July this year nearly 40% of flights landed with more than half an hour’s delay late and 18.9% more than one hour late. The equivalent figures before the pandemic (July 2019) were 9.1 and 5.3%, so it is clear that standards have dropped at the airport.
He said: “Keep in mind that these numbers are only part of the story. They reflect the flights that actually took off, but not the thousands of flights that were cancelled.
“And we must add, when assessing people’s experience at the airport, that delay statistics do not necessarily take into account the time people have had to wait at security, immigration or baggage carousel. Or whether or not they felt they needed to check in earlier than usual due to reported problems at airports this summer.