Heathrow Airport has extended its 100,000-passenger-per-day limit for another six weeks as the aviation sector continues to struggle to meet increased travel demand due to staff shortages.
The capacity limit was initially intended to last until September 11, but this date was pushed back on Monday to October 29, overlapping with the autumn holidays for most schools.
Britain’s busiest airport said the move was made after the introduction of a temporary cap in July led to an improvement in punctuality and fewer last-minute cancellations.
The London hub was one of the hardest hit by the severe disruption that devastated airports across the country in the May half-year and early summer, with long security queues and baggage system breakdowns.
Heathrow reported a £321m adjusted pre-tax loss for the first half in July after experiencing weeks of long queues and flight cancellations.
Hundreds of suitcases were filmed piling up at Heathrow in June after problems with the baggage system were reported and many people were forced to leave without their belongings and told they might not get them back for up to two days.
Tens of thousands of flights have already been canceled this summer as the industry struggles to cope with a surge in demand to near pre-pandemic levels amid staffing shortages. The industry has also been accused of failing to anticipate setbacks after two years of disruption caused by the Covid pandemic.
Consumer rights group Which one? said the move would put the plans of thousands of passengers in limbo. Guy Hobbs, the travel editor, described the situation as a “mess” and called on the airport to give holidaymakers clarity about the flight schedule.
“While the passenger cap extension may help Heathrow prevent a repeat of the unacceptable last-minute cancellations we saw earlier this summer, thousands of people will now be anxious about whether their travel plans could be scrapped,” he said.
“Heathrow and affected airlines must act without delay to provide travelers with clarity on which flights are being cut, and airlines must ensure that affected passengers are aware of their rights to rebooking or refunds.
“The aviation industry and the government must ensure that this mess is sorted out as soon as possible – passenger ceilings cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely.”
Heathrow said the charge imposed in July had resulted in “fewer last-minute cancellations” and “shorter waiting times for bags”.
It added that the capacity limits would be kept under review and “may be lifted earlier should there be a sustained picture of improved resilience and a significant increase in resource levels”.
Heathrow’s chief commercial officer Ross Baker said: “Our primary concern is to ensure we provide our passengers with a reliable service when they travel.
“That’s why we introduced temporary capacity restrictions in July, which have already improved travel during the summer holidays.
“We want to remove the cap as soon as possible, but we can only do so when we are confident that everyone operating at the airport has the resources to deliver the service our passengers deserve.”
Heathrow had said it had hired 1,300 people over the past six months, adding that it would return to pre-pandemic levels of security staff by the end of July.
The airport said it remained loss-making and did not expect to pay dividends to shareholders for the rest of the year, but it compensated for increased costs through higher fees.