Heathrow predicts busy Christmas but warns over future demand

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Heathrow is expecting a busy Christmas travel period but has warned that future demand for air travel remains uncertain, partly as a result of the worsening economic outlook.

Almost 5.8 million passengers travelled through the airport in September, making it Europe’s busiest during the summer, as customers jetted off after the end of Covid travel restrictions. However, passenger levels remained 15% below pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

The London hub said it was difficult to predict future demand because of “growing economic headwinds”, combined with a new wave of Covid infections and the escalating conflict in Ukraine.

Heathrow said it had been increasing staff numbers, while airlines and their ground handlers had also taken on more workers.

In July, the UK’s busiest airport asked airlines to stop selling summer tickets, and imposed a limit of 100,000 passengers departing each day after it struggled to cope with the rebound in travel after the pandemicas a result of staff shortages.

The passenger cap remains in place until 29 October, which marks the end of the summer peak travel season and half-term holidays for most schools.

Heathrow said passenger service levels fell in July when demand outstripped the airport’s capacity, but they improved after the introduction of the daily cap, which aimed to improve punctuality and reduce last-minute cancellations.

Heathrow was hit by severe disruption that blighted airports across the country in the May half-term and early summer, as travellers faced long security queues and baggage system breakdowns.

It said the cap helped to balance supply and demand and meant the vast majority of passengers travelling through Heathrow over the summer had a very good experience.

The airport said it was working with airlines to develop more targeted ways of ensuring passenger service during peak travel periods.

A Heathrow spokesperson said: “We are removing the cap that was in place over the summer and discussing with airlines a number of more targeted options to proactively manage peak demand days over winter if needed. Heathrow’s priority is to ensure passengers get a great service, and we are encouraging airlines to engage with us on developing an approach to achieve this.”

John Holland-Kaye, the Heathrow chief executive, said: “While we face many economic headwinds, as well as the legacy of Covid, our aim is to get back to full capacity and the world class service people should expect from the UK’s hub airport as soon as possible.”

Heathrow said it would spend the next year working on bringing its capacity and service back to pre-pandemic levels.

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