Travellers to the UK this summer should brace for months of potential disruptions and changes to flight schedules, because of a cap introduced on passenger numbers at London's Heathrow airport.
The cap was announced this week as part of efforts to cut long queues, and to reduce volumes of lost baggage and flight cancellations.
Airlines were told to stop selling tickets to the west London airport to limit the impact on passengers, with Gulf carriers preparing for changes to existing flight schedules over the coming months.
"As a result of capacity limits imposed by Heathrow Airport, Etihad Airways has been forced to reschedule flight EY26 from London to Abu Dhabi on Thursday 14 July," an Etihad spokesman said.
"The flight will now depart earlier than planned at 5.20pm instead of 8.45pm to avoid the peak congestion period at Terminal 4.
"Our teams are reaching out to notify passengers of the new departure time and assist connecting travellers who require alternative travel arrangements.
"We regret any inconvenience caused by this last minute change, which was necessary to avoid cancelling the flight."
The airline previously told The National it was working with airport authorities at London Heathrow to understand how capacity restrictions will be applied over the rest of the summer season in order to protect as many customer bookings as possible.
It said any changes to flight schedules will be communicated as soon as possible.
“Etihad Airways has been made aware of the temporary capacity limits at Heathrow Airport and is working with the airport authorities and the slot co-ordinator to understand how they will be applied,” a representative said.
“Flights between Abu Dhabi and London are continuing to operate as scheduled and in the event that there is any impact, it will be communicated in due course.”
Abu Dhabi and Dubai to London are popular routes during summer, as many look to escape the desert heat and to visit families back home.
London Heathrow currently receives about 104,000 passengers a day but, under the current rules, that has been cut to 100,000 to reduce the risk of delays and cancellations.
Only about ten flights a day are expected to be affected, roughly 600 across the next two months of summer.
The airport is expected to field some 70,000 flights in total during that period.
Legal action against London Heathrow has been threatened by service provider Swissport due to the continuing reduction in flights, as staffing plans for a busy summer have already been made.
Strike action over pay by refuelling workers is also mooted for 72 hours from July 21, adding to potential disruption.
Despite reduced services, London Heathrow does not have the worst record for delays in the UK.
Luton Airport ranks fourth on European list of worst performers, where 66 per cent of flights are delayed and 2.7 per cent cancelled.
London Gatwick also fares worse than Heathrow, and is tenth on the list for disruption with 59 per cent of flights delayed and 1.4 per cent cancelled.
Challenging months ahead for airlines
Nick Humphrey, a commercial lawyer who specialises in aviation with Kennedys in Dubai, told the Dubai Eye Business Breakfast radio programme that travellers to the UK could face months of disruption.
“Heathrow is a significant airport, particularly for travellers from the UAE who will be going there for holiday,” he said.
“For the 100,000 passengers passing through Heathrow every day it won’t be a lot of fun and there will still be delays, with long queues and lost baggage.
“When there is a delay at one airport and you are flying to another, it creates network issues.
“It doesn’t just affect one area, and there are issues in the Netherlands, France and Italy.
“There will be connectivity issues through the summer, and then we get into the bridging season of fog and then the World Cup with FlyDubai operating 30-40 flights a day.
“There will be challenges over the next 3-6 months.”