Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Heathrow Airport extends passenger limit until October amid travel chaos

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LONDON – One of Europe’s busiest airports has extended its passenger limit until the end of October as a summer of travel disruptions and staff shortages drags on.

London’s Heathrow Airport said it will allow no more than 100,000 people to fly each day, extending longer than originally planned a restriction it said eased the chaos plaguing summer travel in Europe.

The travel hub imposed the daily limit in July during peak travel season after photos circulated of lost luggage piling up on terminal floors and lines snaking around security barriers for hours. Heathrow cited staff shortages as it grappled with rising traffic as countries emerged from the coronavirus lockdowns that hit the aviation industry.

London Airport said on Monday that its temporary cap led to fewer last-minute cancellations and “shorter waits for bags”.

Just as summer began and the United States lifted a coronavirus testing requirement, pent-up travel demand collided with pandemic layoffs that had hit workers. The result was thousands of flight cancellations and labor strikes across Europe.

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German pilots, French airport workers and Italian air traffic controllers have all left in recent weeks, weighed down by labor shortages and rising inflation. Along with better wages, union activists in Paris called for emergency hiring to restore pre-pandemic staffing levels.

Travelers in Europe added a record heatwave – which threatened to melt airport runways in Britain – to their list of obstacles to 2022.

Chaos has filled terminals with stranded passengers, including at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, when Dutch carrier KLM briefly canceled European flights in June. The airport put a limit on departures then, which it has now extended until October.

“Worldwide aviation traffic continues to edge closer to 2019 levels,” according to FlightAware, which tracks airport traffic and reported “big growth” this week compared to last year’s flights in Europe and China.

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Some consumer rights groups have blamed the aviation sector for failing to plan for growth.

Heathrow said this week it has hired 1,300 people in the past six months in a bid to rebuild pre-pandemic staff. In Monday’s announcement, he said the passenger limits would remain under review and “may be lifted earlier” if conditions improve, including “a material increase” in resources.

“We want to lift the cap as soon as possible,” said Heathrow’s chief commercial officer Ross Baker, “but we can only do that when we are sure that everyone operating at the airport has the resources to deliver the service that our passengers deserve”.

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