London’s Heathrow Airport is asking airlines to stop selling tickets for the rest of the summer after failing to keep up with unprecedented travel growth. The airport also plans to cap travelers at 100,000 per day, leading to potential cancelations for booked travelers.
In an open letter to passengers, Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said the airport is struggling to keep up with post-COVID-19 travel demand and staffing issues, noting they’ve seen 40 years of passenger growth in just four months.
The combination has led to chaos for international travelers. Heathrow is a main hub for Americans traveling to European vacations and was the second busiest airport in the world for all international travelers prior to the pandemic.
“We have started to see periods when service drops to a level that is not acceptable: long queue times, delays for passengers requiring assistance, bags not travelling with passengers or arriving late, low punctuality and last-minute cancellations,” Holland-Kaye said.
Heathrow has introduced a passenger cap of 100,000 from now through September 11. Current forecasts have the daily passenger level exceeding that at 104,000, though Holland-Kaye said only about 1,500 tickets are oversold at this point. In addition to asking airlines to refrain from selling any more flights, he admits that the excess passengers will likely have their travel plans moved to another day, another airport or canceled altogether.
Travelers won’t get much relief from the United Kingdom’s second-largest airport. Gatwick Airport, about 38 miles from Heathrow, also announced last month it was limiting its daily flights over staffing shortages to 825 in July and 850 in August, down from about 900 per day. In the Netherlands, Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport announced last month it was limiting daily passengers to around 70,000 per day for the rest of summer, 16% less than airlines had anticipated.