Heathrow imposes cap on passenger numbers until September as it struggles to cope with demand

The airport is struggling to cope with passenger numbers due to the high demand for travel

Heathrow has imposed a cap on the number of passengers departing from the airport over the summer, threatening further disruption to travel.

The airport has set a limit of 100,000 daily departing passengers until 11 September, as it struggles to cope with demand.

Heathrow has imposed a cap on the number of passengers departing from the airport until September (Photo: Getty Images)Heathrow has imposed a cap on the number of passengers departing from the airport until September (Photo: Getty Images)
Heathrow has imposed a cap on the number of passengers departing from the airport until September (Photo: Getty Images)

The new cap takes effect from today (12 July) and amounts to a cut of 4,000 passengers per day.

Airlines originally planned to operate flights with a daily capacity averaging 104,000 seats during the busy summer period, according to Heathrow.

The airport said it has ordered airlines to “stop selling summer tickets to limit the impact on passengers”.

Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said: “Over the past few weeks, as departing passenger numbers have regularly exceeded 100,000 a day, we have started to see periods when service drops to a level that is not acceptable: long queue times, delays for passengers requiring assistance, bags not travelling with passengers or arriving late, low punctuality and last-minute cancellations.

“This is due to a combination of reduced arrivals punctuality (as a result of delays at other airports and in European airspace) and increased passenger numbers starting to exceed the combined capacity of airlines, airline ground handlers and the airport.

“Our colleagues are going above and beyond to get as many passengers away as possible, but we cannot put them at risk for their own safety and wellbeing.”

Airlines were able to take advantage of a government scheme which meant they could cancel summer flights without losing their future rights to the valuable take-off and landing slots, but even with this measure, Heathrow believes airlines still planned to operate flights carrying 4,000 more daily passengers than could be processed in an acceptable manner.

The airport said: “On average only about 1,500 of these 4,000 daily seats have currently been sold to passengers, and so we are asking our airline partners to stop selling summer tickets to limit the impact on passengers.

“We recognise that this will mean some summer journeys will either be moved to another day, another airport or be cancelled and we apologise to those whose travel plans are affected.

“But this is the right thing to do to provide a better, more reliable journey and to keep everyone working at the airport safe.”

Heathrow insisted the capacity cap is “in line with limits implemented at other airports” and said airlines have “discretion as to how they implement this in their individual schedules”.

Why are flights being cancelled?

Travellers have been faced with hundreds of cancellations in recent weeks as airlines struggle to cope with staffing problems caused by Covid.

Many workers were made redundant or changed jobs during the pandemic, and airlines and airports are now looking to recruit new workers to address the shortages.

Before the pandemic, airports and airlines across Britain employed around 140,000 people, but since then around 30,000 jobs were cut for UK airlines alone.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has also blamed the ongoing travel chaos on airlines and operators, saying they have “seriously oversold flights and holidays” relative to their capacity to deliver.

The government has now introduced new regulations that will allow a one-off “amnesty” on airport slot rules, enabling airlines to plan ahead and deliver a more realistic summer schedule with a view to minimising disruption at airports.

Airlines will be able to cancel flights without being penalised for not using their airport slot and had to finalise their summer schedule by Friday 8 July.

It is understood that flights cancelled or removed from airline schedules after the deadline will not fall under the slot amnesty.

The slots are intended to help manage capacity at the busiest airports, giving airlines authorisation to take off or land at a particular airport at a specified time on a specified day.

In the event flights are cancelled, airlines must offer to book passengers on an alternative route as close to the original arrival time as possible.

Passengers will be entitled to a full refund for cancelled flights but can only accept either a refund or a rebooking - not both.