Heathrow cancelled flights because it expects more passengers to turn up than it can safely handle

Business Insider US
The subsequent queues — like those seen on June 1 — as the global airline industry struggles to cope with summer travel demand.
  • Heathrow airport asked airlines to cancel flights on Thursday over concerns safety concerns. 
  • The hub said it is expecting higher passenger numbers than it has capacity to serve.
  • Cancellations at other airports have contributed to the problem, a spokesperson told Insider. 
  • For more stories visit Business Insider.

Heathrow, the UK's largest airport, asked airlines to cut flights on Thursday over concerns that it does not have the capacity to handle surging passenger numbers.

On Wednesday evening, Heathrow asked airlines to cut 30 flights set to depart on Thursday morning, citing safety concerns. 

"We are expecting higher passenger numbers in today's morning peak than the airport currently has capacity to serve, and so to keep everyone safe we have asked airlines to remove 30 flights from the morning peak for today only," a Heathrow spokesperson said in a statement. 

Although 98% of flights are anticipated to take off as planned, some affected passengers claimed that they didn't find out until they arrived at the airport on Thursday morning, per Bloomberg

The subsequent queues and delays mean further misery for passengers as the global airline industry struggles to cope with summer travel demand. 

Long-running shortages of pilots, baggage handlers, and customer service workers, exacerbated by the fact that many were let go during the pandemic, has left many operators and hubs short of capacity at a time when pent-up travel demand reaches its peak.

The result has been a spate of flight cancellations and delays as executives readjust their flight plans to minimize the disruption. 

A spokesperson told Insider that Thursday's passenger numbers were anticipated to be 13% higher than the previous week, which had "stretched resourcing across the airport." 

The spokesperson told Insider that that the increase had been caused by a spike in last-minute bookings from passengers who have had flights cancelled at other airports.

The airport increased its forecast for the number of passengers it expects to handle this year, from 52.2 million to 54.4 million in an investor report published on June 23. 

Heathrow's chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, has previously said that it could take as much as 18 months for the industry to reach capacity

The majority of the affected flights on Thursday were British Airways routes, per The Guardian. The airline has already reduced its summer schedule by 10%

The UK government has urged airports to end the wave of last-minute flight cancellations. In a joint letter, sent to industry execs on June 15, The Department for Transport (DfT) and the air regulator Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) urged carriers to "develop a schedule that is deliverable."

The UK government has also loosened the rules surrounding landing slots at the country's busiest airports. Normally, airlines have to use allocated take-off and landing slots at least 70% of the time. Under the amnesty, airlines will be able to hand slots back without fear of losing them permanently, per The Guardian

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