Airports: flight chaos at Heathrow: dispute between airport and airlines

Short-term travel over the summer holidays is becoming increasingly complicated - and expensive - for holidaymakers from the UK.

Airports: flight chaos at Heathrow: dispute between airport and airlines

Short-term travel over the summer holidays is becoming increasingly complicated - and expensive - for holidaymakers from the UK. Britain's largest airline, British Airways, will no longer be selling new short-haul tickets from London Heathrow until at least August 8. As the Times newspaper reported on Tuesday, all connections at the country's main airport to destinations in other parts of the UK and the EU, as well as via Morocco and Cairo, have been withdrawn from sale.

It is "very likely" that the measure will be extended until the end of the summer, industry experts told the newspaper. The step will also ensure higher prices at other airports. For travelers, this intensifies the flight chaos even more. For weeks they have been complaining about hours of waiting and prevented trips.

Heathrow is not alone in this. There are also enormous problems at other British airports and at some EU airports. Pieces of luggage were piling up in Copenhagen, and travelers in Cologne had to queue for hours at the security check. Last Wednesday, the Verdi union paralyzed almost the entire Lufthansa flight program with a warning strike. More than 1,000 flights were canceled and around 134,000 passengers had to change their plans. Verdi is already threatening further warning strikes during peak travel times if the round of negotiations that begins this Wednesday does not lead to a breakthrough.

Explosive Situation

But at Heathrow, the situation is even more explosive. Hardly a day goes by without annoyed travelers sharing photos of endless queues at security or passport control on social networks. Much less of this can be seen at the other London airports such as Gatwick or Stansted. One of the world's busiest airports appears to have been unprepared for the onslaught of passengers as coronavirus travel rules eased.

"The unprecedented growth in passenger numbers over the past four months is consistent with what has taken place over the past 40 years," Heathrow announced in mid-July. In response, the airport stipulated that only 100,000 passengers may depart daily until September 11th. The BBC spoke of an "extraordinary decision".

The largest Heathrow customer, British Airways (BA), is primarily affected. The airline has now canceled nearly 30,000 connections from its summer schedule, around 13 percent of all flights, according to the PA news agency. The step was simplified by the British government, which relaxed the regulations for take-off and landing rights at airports. Airlines can use it to cancel connections and do without the so-called slots without having to fear losing the expensive take-off rights.

Airlines practice clear criticism

Now the sale was stopped. The airline spoke of a "reasonable" response "given the restrictions imposed on us and the ongoing challenges facing the entire aviation industry". More rebooking options are now available for customers who have already booked and whose flights had previously been cancelled. BA did not directly criticize the airport. Other airlines are becoming clearer. Ryanair chief financial officer Neil Sorahan accused the airports of not having hired enough staff. The airline Emirates, which initially rejected the passenger limit, and Virgin Atlantic also criticized Heathrow.

In fact, a lack of workers is the main problem. But the question of guilt creates tension. Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye immediately went on the offensive. "Airports don't offer ground handling, the airlines do it themselves," he told the BBC. "So that's like being accused of not having enough pilots."

The authorities helped him. In a letter, the competition authority CMA and the aviation authority CAA accused the airlines of enforcing "harmful practices" against passengers. For example, by selling more tickets than they could actually offer. Passengers are likely to feel the effects for weeks to come. "This is not a normal summer," commented the BBC.

BBC report Times report (paywall) Heathrow cap notice Letters from CMA and CAA

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