Heathrow is to extend a limit on the number of passengers it can fly through the airport until the end of October due to staff shortages. This limit will remain in place until after the UK school half-term.
After consultation with airlines, the airport said the daily limit for departing passengers would now be applicable till October 29. It said the measure would enable more reliable passenger travel.
The UK’s largest airport said the cap would “give passengers confidence before their half-hearted getaway”. The airport also said the cap would be kept under regular review and could be lifted early if staffing levels improved.
Heathrow chief commercial officer Ross Baker said: “Our primary concern is ensuring we give our passengers a reliable service when they travel.”
“We want to remove the cap as soon as possible, but we can only do so when we are confident that everyone operating at the airport has the resources to deliver the service our passengers deserve,” he added.
In response, a spokesman for airline Virgin Atlantic said: “We are disappointed that Heathrow Airport has already decided to extend the passenger capacity cap until the end of October, as additional resources come on line every week and the airport experience improves.”
The airline said that its ground handlers, Cobalt Ground Solutions, responsible for services including ramp and baggage operations, currently have staff resourcing at 95% of 2019 levels.
“Airline customers have a right to expect their bookings will be honoured, and we’re doing everything in our power to minimise disruption, getting our customers to where they need to be smooth,” he added.
Consumer rights group Which? also warned the move would leave thousands of passengers’ plans in limbo, saying the situation was a “mess”.
“Though the extension of the passenger cap may help Heathrow prevent a repeat of the unacceptable last-minute cancellations we saw earlier in the summer, thousands of people will now be anxious about whether their travel plans could be scuppered,” said Guy Hobbs, travel editor at the organisation.
“Heathrow and impacted airlines must act without delay to provide travellers with clarity on which flights are being cut, and airlines must ensure affected passengers are aware of their rights to rebooking or refunds.”
Tens of thousands of UK passengers have been affected by travel disruption throughout the summer.
During the pandemic, the aviation industry cut thousands of jobs as international travel ground to a halt. But since then, it has struggled to recruit and train new staff quickly enough.
According to aviation analytics firm Cirium, the number of last-minute flight cancellations from the UK was up 188% in June 2022, compared to June 2019 before the pandemic.
In June, the Department for Transport and the Civil Aviation Authority wrote a joint letter to carriers to cancel flights they cannot deliver this summer.
Meanwhile, the Unite union said it had secured a pay rise of 13% for around 16,000 British Airways staff.
The deal will see workers get a lump sum worth 5% of their wages in August, a consolidated 5% increase in September and a further 3% consolidated rise in December.