London’s busiest airport, Heathrow, has told airlines to stop selling summer tickets, as the airport has been forced to limit the number of passengers it is able to serve until mid-September.

Signed by Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye, an open letter issued on Tuesday points towards staff shortages that have led to long lines, delays, lost luggage and last-minute cancellations, rendering the service provided by the airport as “unacceptable”.

Heathrow is limiting the number of passengers who can depart each day over the peak summer months to 100,000, 4,000 fewer than it is currently handling. The cap on passenger numbers has been set to last until 11th September.

Both airports and airlines have let staff go during the peak of COVID and are now struggling to rehire at a time when travel demand has surged.

“…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,” the Heathrow CEO wrote in the open letter.”

To help the situation, the UK Government placed a temporary “amnesty” to the rules on airport slots, allowing airlines to change summer schedules without facing a penalty.

Despite re-hiring efforts and concessions granted by Government, Heathrow said some airlines are still planning on operating flights with more daily passengers than the airport could handle.

“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,” said Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye.

“Our assessment is that the maximum number of daily departing passengers that airlines, airline ground handlers and the airport can collectively serve over the summer is no more than 100,000.

“The latest forecasts indicate that even despite the amnesty, daily departing seats over the summer will average 104,000 – giving a daily excess of 4,000 seats. 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.”

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