Heathrow Airport warns more flight cancellations possible

Heathrow Airport has apologised to passengers caught up in recent travel chaos but warned that more flights could be cancelled.

The UK’s largest airport asked airlines to remove 61 flights from Monday’s schedules, as it seeks to cope with soaring demand and staff shortages.

Heathrow’s boss John Holland-Kaye said the airport would request “further action if necessary”.

Tens of thousands of UK passengers have been affected by travel disruption.

Airports and airlines have struggled to recruit staff after shedding jobs during Covid lockdowns as holiday demand has returned. The UK is about to enter the key summer holiday season as schools begin to break up.

The government and the aviation regulator wrote to carriers last month telling them to ensure their summer timetables were “deliverable”.

Last week, British Airways said it was cutting 10,300 more short-haul flights between August and the end of October. The announcement, affecting Heathrow, Gatwick and City airports, means nearly 30,000 flights will have been removed from BA’s schedule between April and October this year.

Heathrow apologised to passengers affected by “long queue times, delays for passengers with reduced mobility, bags not travelling with passengers or arriving late”, at times in recent weeks.

But it insisted most passengers had a good level of service, despite resourcing challenges at the airport, airlines, ground handlers and government agencies.

Mr Holland-Kaye said: “I am very proud of the way that our team is rising to the challenge of growth, and giving excellent service to the vast majority of passengers.

“However, we have already seen times recently when demand exceeds the capacity of the airport, airlines and ground handlers.

“We will review the schedule changes that airlines have submitted in response to the government’s requirement to minimise disruption for passengers this summer and will ask them to take further action if necessary.”

Heathrow said it had asked airlines to remove 61 flights from Monday’s schedules, because more passengers are expected in Terminals 3 and 5 than the airport can currently serve.

Previous “schedule interventions” happened following problems with a baggage system, and because more passengers were expected than security staffing could cope with.

Heathrow said nearly six million passengers used the airport in June.

Another hint that cancellations may not be over, just as the summer holidays are about to take off.

Airlines say the advance cancellations they’ve already made should make the peak schedules more reliable and minimise the chances of last minute disruption.

For example, British Airways said last week it would take out more than 10,000 flights, between August and October. It hopes that will be the last such wave of cuts.

But Heathrow is clear today it will review airlines’ schedule-trimming and ask them to do more if necessary.

The airport has already made a number of “schedule interventions” at short notice, asking airlines to remove a relatively small number of services the following day.

Aviation businesses insist they’re doing everything in their control to improve things, but no-one can promise a completely disruption-free summer.

The entire aviation sector has struggled to bounce back from the pandemic, during which it cut thousands of jobs as the industry ground to a halt.

Now that travel has resumed, airlines are seeking to put on almost as many flights as they did before Covid restrictions were introduced while many aviation businesses, for example ground handlers, are finding it difficult to rehire workers.

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.

Last month, the Department for Transport and the Civil Aviation Authority wrote a joint letter to carriers, telling them to cancel flights they cannot deliver this summer.

Other airlines have also announced cancellations over the busy summer period.

Low cost European carrier Wizz Air has said it will reduce its peak summer flight programme in an effort to avoid flight cancellations and delays.

The Hungarian airline said it would trim its capacity by a further 5%.

Industry bosses have urged the government to allow them to recruit workers from overseas as one potential fix to staff shortages.

Writing in the Sunday Times, Philipp Joeinig, group chief executive of Menzies Aviation, said ministers should add aviation workers to the shortage occupation list as the country enters the peak travel season.

Last month, it was reported that this plea had been rejected by the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps.(BBC)