Heathrow cancels 60 flights and warns that it might have to cut more

Heathrow airport cancelled over 60 flights Monday and warned that it might have to ask airlines for more to help it cope with the rebound of travel demand following the coronavirus pandemic.

The flights were scattered across Terminals 3 & 5, with British Airways and Virgin Atlantic among those affected. This disrupted plans for approximately 10,000 passengers.

A spokesperson for the airport stated that “We expect higher passenger numbers today in Terminals 3 and 5 than the airport currently can serve.”

“We apologize for the disruption to travel plans. We are working closely to get affected passengers rebooked onto other flights.”

70 musicians from London Symphony Orchestra were among the affected passengers. They had performed music by Pyotr Tchaikovsky during a weekend festival held in Granada (Spain) with Sir John Eliot Gardiner and were left stranded. To catch alternate flights home, they had to travel five hours by coach from Malaga to Gibraltar.

Heathrow passengers and others have complained about long waits for security and lost baggage.

Heathrow announced Monday that 6,000,000 passengers travelled through Heathrow’s airport in June. This is the equivalent of 40 years of growth in just four months and 25m in six months. This is compared to 19.4 million passengers in 2021.

It said that “despite our best efforts, there were periods in the recent weeks when service levels haven’t been acceptable” in a Monday morning statement to the stock exchange.

It said that it would also “carefully evaluate” airline schedule cuts after the UK government had pushed for a “slot Amnesty” to allow airlines to cancel flights without losing access rights.

John Holland-Kaye, the Heathrow chief executive, warned that it could ask airlines to cancel additional flights if they feel the schedules are too ambitious or likely to cause more chaos.

He said that the government would review any schedule changes submitted by airlines in response to its requirement to minimize disruption to passengers this summer. If necessary, he would ask them for further action. We want all Heathrow passengers to feel safe and secure.

The difficulty of airports in matching recovery has been partly caused by their inability to hire enough staff after deep wages and job reductions by airlines and airports during the pandemic. British Airways restored the pay of its Heathrow check-in staff to pre-pandemic levels last week, avoiding the threat to strike action.

Although Heathrow has been preparing for recovery since November, Heathrow stated Monday that they would not be able to match pre-pandemic levels of staff until the “end of July”, suggesting that there may be more disruptions.

There has been a lot of blame in the aviation industry for the chaos at airports. Willie Walsh, former boss of British Airways, who is now the International Air Transport Association (a lobby group) criticized Heathrow for not being prepared for the recovery.

Walsh stated that “Heathrow certainly should have prepared better,” in an interview with BBC. They argued that airlines should operate at least 80% of their slots during the summer. They did not have the resources to handle that activity level, so it is fair to criticise Heathrow.

Menzies Aviation chief executive Philipp Joeinig blamed Brexit and ministers for delays in security checks for staff. He said that this was adding to “mounting crises”.

On Monday, he called for the government’s security checks to be cut and to allow more EU workers to alleviate staff shortages. He wrote in the Times. He said that Brexit had had a significant negative effect on the availability of workers.