Heathrow demands help to ensure smooth summer travel as losses rise

Airport chiefs say surge in passenger demand will not ensure return to profitability

After weeks of long queues at Heathrow, the airport unveiled plans to hire more than 1,000 extra security officers to prepare for the summer season. Reuters
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Heathrow Airport criticised the UK's Border Force as its financial figures for the first quarter of the year were announced.

After weeks of long queues at Heathrow, there are plans to hire more than 1,000 additional security officers to prepare for the summer season, the company said.

But Heathrow said that while it was prepared to play its part in ensuring ease of travel, the Home Office, which controls the border, must take responsibility, too.

“A smooth arrival is more important than ever as many people begin travelling again, and we rely on Border Force having the right plans and resources in place for the summer peak,” Heathrow said in a report released on Monday.

In recent weeks there has been a surge in demand for travel out of Britain after coronavirus travel restrictions were lifted in their entirety in March.

Staff shortages at Heathrow meant thousands of passengers had to wait for hours for security and passport checks.

The CEO of Heathrow Airport John Holland-Kaye said Border Force must have a plan in place to ensure smooth travel for passengers at the west London airport. (AP Photo / Matt Dunham)

There were also lengthy queues at Manchester and Birmingham airports, where staff shortages meant similar problems.

About 9.7 million passengers used Heathrow in the first three months of the year, which was in line with forecasts, the company said.

The west London airport has updated its 2022 passenger forecast from 45.5 million to 52.8 million, or 65 per cent of pre-pandemic numbers.

Despite this, Heathrow said it will not make a profit in 2022 as “demand remains very volatile”.

The losses incurred during the pandemic by Heathrow, the UK’s busiest airport, have exceeded £4 billion ($5.1bn).

“Demand remains very volatile, and we expect these passenger numbers to drop off significantly after the summer,” a spokesman for the airport said.

“We are already seeing airlines cancelling services into the autumn, and the realities of higher fuel costs, lower GDP growth, the war in Ukraine and the pandemic will drag on demand.

“We are still in a pandemic, with many markets still closed, nearly 80 per cent with testing and vaccination requirements, and another variant of concern could mean the return of UK travel restrictions.”

The airport reported a big surge in demand for last-minute bookings over the Easter holiday, and the summer period is expected to bring more demand.

Heathrow said more than 95 per cent of passengers went through security checks within five minutes at Easter.

Terminal 4, which has been closed since the pandemic began in 2020, will be back in operation by July to ease pressure on the terminals in operation — T2, T3 and T5.

The company said it is assisting airlines, ground handlers and retailers to recruit staff after thousands of workers were laid off during the coronavirus period. About 12,000 jobs have opened up at the airport as the travel industry recovers.

“I want to thank colleagues who worked very hard to ensure the start of 2022 has gone to plan, and I want to reassure passengers that we’re redoubling our efforts to ensure this summer’s journeys go safely and smoothly,” said John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow chief executive.

“These past few weeks have only reinforced our view that passengers want easy, quick and reliable journeys every time they travel, and we can continue to deliver that for less than a 2 per cent increase in ticket prices.

“The CAA [Civil Aviation Authority] should be aiming to secure this win for passengers instead of pushing plans which will cut investment in service, increase queues and make delays a permanent feature post-Covid,” he said.

“We have a lot of work to do to reclaim Heathrow’s crown as Europe’s largest airport, which will deliver more competition and choice for passengers and more growth for Britain, and we need the regulator to help us do it.”

Updated: April 26, 2022, 9:15 AM