Heathrow flight cap to extend into October in fresh travel chaos

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The airport is limiting the number of arrivals and departures over the next few months

Britain’s largest airport has written to airlines asking airlines to limit the number of arrivals and departures until October 29 due to staff shortages.

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The airport limits arrivals and departures into October (Photo: Getty Images)

The letter seen by The Daily Telegraphsays the airport will limit the number of return flights in the coming months, with a limit of 1,100 from July 11 to August 31, 1,150 from September 1 to September 30 and 1,200 from October 1 to 29 October.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Heathrow had 1,350 flights a day.

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It also says the airport has already had to take “emergency measures” to prevent “dangerous” overcrowding that could endanger passenger safety.

Heathrow said the move was necessary “to ensure continued safe operations and to mitigate the risk of uncontrolled surges in demand that could lead to potentially dangerous congestion or overcrowding”.

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The letter, from Mark Powell, Heathrow’s director of operations planning, said: “Heathrow has had to implement contingency measures over the last few weeks to avoid security incidents and terminal congestion, including access control/call routing necessary to ensure safe management from passengers queuing in landside areas.”

Airlines were also reportedly warned that they could face “limited use or no further use of the airport” if they did not reduce the capacity of flights.

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Upper limit for summer flights already in force

The decision comes after the airport last week ordered airlines to stop selling tickets for summer flights and capped passenger numbers.

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A limit of 100,000 daily departing passengers was set by September 11, a reduction of 4,000 passengers per day.

Airlines originally planned to operate flights with an average daily capacity of 104,000 seats during the busy summer period, Heathrow said.

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Heathrow insisted the capacity cap “is in line with limits implemented at other airports” and said airlines have “discretion as to how they implement this in their individual flight schedules”.

Heathrow Chief Executive John Holland-Kaye said: “In recent weeks, with the number of departing passengers regularly exceeding 100,000 per day, we have begun to see periods when service drops to unacceptable levels: long waiting times, delays for passengers needing assistance, baggage not traveling with passengers or arriving late, poor punctuality and last minute cancellations.

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“This is due to a combination of reduced arrival punctuality (due to delays at other airports and in European airspace) and increased passenger numbers that are beginning to exceed the combined capacity of the airlines, ground handlers and the airport.”

Why are so many flights cancelled?

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Many workers have been laid off or changed jobs during the pandemic, and airlines and airports are now looking for new workers to fill the shortage.

Before the pandemic, airports and airlines across the UK employed around 140,000 people, but around 30,000 jobs have been shed on UK airlines alone since then.

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Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has also blamed airlines and operators for the ongoing travel chaos, saying they have “seriously oversold flights and holidays” relative to their delivery capacity.

The government has now enacted new rules allowing for a one-off “amnesty” of airport slot rules, allowing airlines to plan ahead and deliver a more realistic summer schedule to minimize disruption at airports.

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Airlines can cancel flights without being penalized for not using their airport slot and had to finalize their summer schedule by Friday 8 July. It is understood that flights canceled or removed from flight schedules after the deadline are not covered by the slot amnesty.

The slots are designed to help manage capacity at the busiest airports by giving airlines permission to take off or land at a specific airport at a specific time on a specific day.

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If flights are cancelled, airlines must offer to book passengers on an alternative route as close as possible to the original arrival time.

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