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Heathrow terminal five
Photograph: Gordon Bell

Here we go again: Heathrow could be capping passenger numbers over Christmas

The airport limited daily journeys to 100,000 over the summer, and may do so again later this year

Written by
Ellie Muir
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Remember the chaos at the UK’s airports during the summer? There were queues all over the shop, and delays and cancellations were the norm. Staff shortages at Heathrow were so severe that the airport placed a cap on outbound passenger journeys, limiting them to 100,000 per day. That cap is still in place today and is due to lift at the end of the month.

But if you thought the airport chaos might be over sometime soon? Heathrow has warned that the cap could return ‘if needed’ in the run-up to the festive period as staff shortages continue.

Despite a fall in passenger levels post-pandemic, thousands of holidaymakers and passengers have faced delays and cancellations in recent months, with airlines and airports struggling to recruit enough staff to cope with demand for international travel. This is because loads of cuts were made to jobs across the aviation industry during the pandemic, and the roles have not been refilled.

At Heathrow, some 75,000 jobs across 400 organisations operating at the airport had been cut down to 50,000 during the pandemic, so when Covid-19 restrictions were lifted, the airport couldn’t cope. What with the cost-of-living crisis, the war in Ukraine and the impact of Covid on international travel, airport bosses expect passenger numbers to have dropped by 25 percent in 2022 compared with 2019, which might explain why they are reluctant to hire more staff and rely on passenger caps to control to capacity of the airport. 

John Holland-Kaye, the chief executive of Heathrow, told the BBC the airport wanted to ‘get back to full capacity as soon as possible’. 

He added: ‘The reason for having a cap is to make sure we keep supply and demand in balance. It was absolutely the right thing to do over the summer. It meant for the summer holidays people could get away with confidence.’

The cap will only be reinstated if absolutely necessary, he said. Watch this space for more updates.

ICYMI: now UK border staff could be going on strike over Christmas.

Plus: here’s why staying in a luxury hotel in Egypt for a month could actually earn you money.

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