London Heathrow airport says its controversial cap on flights to ease the chaos of recent months might have to stay in place for at least another year.
“This is not going to be a quick fix,” Chief Executive Officer John Holland-Kaye said in an interview.
“It’s absolutely possible that we could have another summer with a cap still in place. It’s going to take 12 to 18 months, and not just at Heathrow.”
Heathrow introduced a limit of 100,000 daily departing passengers on July 12, saying the measure would remain in place for two months.
The airport operator struck a more combative tone on Tuesday, proclaiming airlines need to shape up and more aggressively hire ground staff to replenish their depleted ground-handling resources, adding that Heathrow itself had done its fair share of hiring in the past six months.
Weeks of travel chaos across Europe have pitted airlines against airports, each blaming one another for insufficient staffing and preparation as pandemic-weary travellers rushed to book their summer vacation.
Scenes of long waiting lines snaking out of terminals, mountains of stranded luggage and abruptly canceled flights have become familiar images at airports in the UK, France and Germany, exacerbated by strikes at carriers including EasyJet and Lufthansa seeking better pay deals.
Many frustrated travellers impacted by the ongoing delays and cancellations across Europe and the UK are now seeking compensation via the EU261 and UK261 consumer rights laws.
Holland-Kaye said airlines are responsible for hiring ground personnel, and that there remain shortages in areas like check-in, baggage handlers and air-bridge operators.
Some companies have struggled to retain their workers because the hours can be grueling and pay isn’t always competitive, making a switch to areas like package delivery services more appealing.
The airport, Europe’s busiest prior to the coronavirus crisis, met with a backlash from passengers and resistance from airlines including Dubai-based Emirates when it revealed the flight restrictions after initially suggesting it had escaped the worst of Europe’s travel crisis.
Heathrow said its own resources are sufficient to cope with about 85% of the traffic seen in 2019, which is roughly in line with current demand.
About 1,300 people have been hired in the past six months and the number of security personnel is about the same as it was pre-pandemic. Airline ground handlers, by contrast, still have no more than 70% of pre-Covid resources available, Holland-Kaye said.
For airlines, the good news is that they will be able to charge more for the reduced number of seats, “so there is a silver lining in this for them,” Holland-Kaye suggested.
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