Heathrow flight takes off with only luggage onboard

Passengers were moved on to other flights after Delta used empty Airbus to retrieve lost bags

Heathrow has struggled with the surge in demand after Covid lockdown rules were lifted. Photo: PA
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A plane carrying only luggage flew out of Heathrow Airport after the travel hub cancelled thousands of flights and a US airline was forced to improvise to reunite passengers with their possessions.

Delta Air Lines used the Airbus SE A330-200 to fly home 1,000 items of luggage after Heathrow put a cap on passengers and cancelled thousands of trips, including one by the US company.

Delta’s “creative solution” came after the regularly scheduled London-to-Detroit Flight 17 on July 11 was grounded.

“We had a separate charter just to repatriate bags back to customers that have been stranded because of some of the operational issues,” chief executive Ed Bastian said on a conference call to discuss quarterly financial results.

Travellers were moved on to other flights, and Delta used the empty Airbus to retrieve the lost bags.

The luggage was returned to Detroit and forwarded to customers from there, Delta said on Wednesday.

“Delta teams worked a creative solution to move delayed checked bags from London-Heathrow on July 11 after a regularly scheduled flight had to be cancelled given airport passenger volume restrictions at Heathrow,” a representative said.

“Delta Flight 9888 from Heathrow to Delta’s Detroit hub flew 1,000 bags back to the US, where teams then forwarded the bags on to our customers.”

Heathrow has struggled with the surge in demand after Covid lockdown rules were lifted.

The crisis has led to luggage pile-ups inside the airport with passengers forced to leave the terminals without their bags.

The recent cap on passengers, from about 104,000 people a day to 100,000, is on top of thousands of other flights that were cancelled in previous weeks.

Affected passengers will not be entitled to compensation because the reason for the cancellations will be classified as being outside the control of airlines.

About 131,000 passengers departed the airport on Heathrow’s busiest day on record, August 4, 2019.

Willie Walsh, director general of the International Air Transport Association and former head of British Airways, panned moves to tell airlines to limit the number of seats they sell to limit summer disruption.

He said the airport underestimated the speed of the pandemic recovery and was focused on profit at the expense of airlines that must now foot the bill.

Delta posted lower-than-expected second-quarter profits and warned that cost pressures would remain elevated through the year as it battles operational challenges, sending its shares lower.

US airlines are enjoying the strongest summer travel season in three years as more people resume regular activities, including holidays.

International traffic and corporate travel demand are also on a rebound, making for a profitable second-quarter for most of the major airlines.

However, the industry's decision to let thousands of workers go at the height of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 has left it ill-equipped to deal with a surge in consumer demand.

Carriers are struggling to increase capacity and get operations back on a smoother track, resulting in higher operational costs.

Delta had to cancel 3.5 per cent of its scheduled flights last month. The flight disruptions, along with higher fuel costs, resulted in a profit below Wall Street estimates.

Updated: July 14, 2022, 9:25 AM
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