London's Heathrow Airport laid the blame for the cap on passenger numbers squarely on its operators on Tuesday as it said it had started the year "well" given its deep-seated problems that could take another 18 months to resolve.
"Recent months have shown that passengers value easy, quick and reliable journeys, not penny pinching," said chief executive officer John Holland-Kaye, who predicted the disruption could last to 2024. “It’s absolutely possible that we could have another summer with a cap still in place. It’s going to take 12 to 18 months, and not just at Heathrow.”
“This is not going to be a quick fix."
The airport’s adjusted loss before tax during the first six months of the year was £321 million, down from £787m during the same period in 2021. It attributed the improvement to a spike in passenger numbers, from 3.9 million to 26.1 million.
In a wide ranging attack on passenger habits, operators failures and the government, Mr Holland-Kaye even single out make-up in carry on luggage as a factor in the delays and cancellations.
"They have got more bags, and more liquids in their bags so that takes a little bit longer,” he told an interviewer.
The airport gave a detailed breakdown of its problems. "Planning has been based on summer peak demand exceeding 85 per cent of 2019, broadly in line with actuals," the statement said. "All parts of the airport are now fully operational. We have hired 1,300 people in the past six months and will have a similar level of security resource by the end of July as pre-pandemic.
"In the second half of June, as departing passenger numbers regularly exceeded 100,000 a day, we started to see a worrying increase in unacceptable service levels for some passengers; an increase in delays to get planes on to stand, bags not travelling with passengers or being delivered very late to the baggage hall, low departure punctuality and some flights being cancelled after passengers had boarded," an airport statement said.
The management said there’s no prospect of lifting a cap on flights until airlines boost the number of ground personnel, saying carriers were too slow to combat staffing shortages that contributed to the travel chaos engulfing Europe this summer.
The airport operator said on Tuesday that a limit of 100,000 daily departing passengers announced on July 12 and originally due to run for two months “will remain in place until airlines increase their ground handler resource”.
In a combative earnings release, the UK hub sought to lay the blame for the curbs squarely at the door of carriers, which it said had failed to increase the number of their ground handlers since the start of the year, despite surging travel demand.
The airport, Europe’s busiest prior to the coronavirus crisis, met with backlash from passengers and resistance from airlines including Dubai-based Emirates when it revealed the flight restrictions, after initially suggesting it had escaped the worst of Europe’s travel crisis.
“We took swift action to protect consumers by applying a cap on departing passenger numbers, better aligned with their resources,” the statement said. “Airline ground handler performance has been much more stable since the cap came into effect, and we have seen a marked improvement in punctuality and baggage performance.”