Heathrow's recovery bolstered by rise in Middle Eastern passengers

European hub is preparing for its busiest festive season in three years

An Emirates air stewardess near one of the airline's Airbus A380 aircraft at Terminal 3 of Heathrow Airport. Bloomberg
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A strong recovery in Heathrow passenger traffic from the Middle East is expected to continue in the run-up to Christmas, according to the London airport.

The European hub says it is preparing for its busiest festive season in three years, since the onset of the pandemic.

It served 5.9 million passengers in October, which is 84 per cent of 2019 levels.

In the year to date, traffic is at 74 per cent of 2019 levels.

“The leisure market has been buoyant thanks to the half-term getaway, with our busiest day since July, and we are also seeing the gradual return of business travellers too,” the airport said in a statement on Friday.

“Strong recovery in the Middle East and Central Asia seen in October is expected to continue into November.”

About 658,000 passengers from the Middle East travelled through the airport in October, up 75 per cent on the year.

From January to October of this year, more than 5.6 million people from the region passed through the airport, representing a 300 per cent rise.

The increase in passenger numbers is higher than at any other in Europe, according to Heathrow, which is Europe's busiest hub.

It has been working with airlines and ground handlers to prepare for the Christmas peak, and says it has a good plan which will not require any capacity cap.

The hub said it is aware of potential strike action at a number of organisations, including a national Border Force strike, and it will have contingency plans in place to minimise any impact.

Heathrow's chief executive John Holland-Kaye said: “We have come so far since Omicron grounded Christmas travel plans last year.

“Heathrow, our airline partners and their handlers are all working together to make sure everyone can be reunited with their loved ones this Christmas.”

Heathrow announced last month that its losses had widened, despite an improvement in passenger numbers, as the London airport warned demand may not recover “for a number of years”.

About 18 million people passed through Heathrow this summer, making it the busiest hub in Europe over the period.

The airport predicts passenger numbers this year will reach 60 to 62 million, about 25 per cent less than in 2019.

“Headwinds of a global economic crisis, war in Ukraine and the impact of Covid-19 mean we are unlikely to return to pre-pandemic demand for a number of years, except at peak times,” it said in a statement.

And the airport's underlying losses increased to £442 million ($503m) in the year to date, “as regulated income fails to cover costs, adding to the £4 billion in the prior two years”, it said.

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Updated: November 11, 2022, 10:45 AM