Heathrow Airport has imposed a cap on passenger numbers for the Northern Hemisphere summer as the aviation sector struggles to cope with demand for travel. Photo / AP
Middle East airline Emirates has rejected a demand from London’s Heathrow Airport for airlines to cut passenger numbers on flights during the Northern Hemisphere summer in a bid to ease travel disruption, calling it a “completely unreasonable and unacceptable” move that shows “blatant disregard for customers”.
In a blistering statement, the airline accused Heathrow’s management of “incompetence” for not being ready to deal with the “superpeak period” for travel. The airport says it has sought help from airlines on solutions for months.
Emirates, one of the world’s biggest airlines, hit back a day after Heathrow announced it was capping daily passenger numbers at 100,000 and told airlines to stop selling tickets as they try to curb travel chaos caused by rising travel demand and staff shortages.
Airlines have already cut thousands of flights from their summer schedules after UK aviation authorities, in a bid to prevent last-minute cancellations, said airlines would not be penalized for not using valuable take-off and landing slots.
Heathrow, Britain’s busiest airport, said the cuts were not enough, but Emirates drew a line that exposes tensions between the airport and the airlines that are its customers.
The problems have appeared all over Europe. Rising demand for summer travel after two years of Covid-19 travel restrictions has swamped airlines and airports, which are shorthanded after many pilots, cabin crew, check-in staff and baggage handlers were laid off. This means that travelers are faced with last-minute cancellations, long delays, lost luggage or long waiting times for luggage.
Emirates, which operates six daily return flights between Heathrow and Dubai, United Arab Emirates, said it was “deeply regrettable” that the airport on Wednesday night gave it 36 hours to comply with the capacity cuts “by a figure which appears to have been plucked from loose the air. “.
“Their communication not only dictated the specific flights on which we would eject paying passengers, but also threatened legal action for non-compliance,” the airline said.
Other airlines also complained. British Airways, which has the largest presence at Heathrow and has already cut 11 per cent of its scheduled flights through October, said the restrictions were “incredibly disappointing” and that it would cancel “a small number of additional flights”.
Heathrow blames a shortage of ground staff, who are hired by airlines to check in passengers, load and unload bags and prepare planes for their next journey.
However, Emirates said its ground handling and catering services are owned by the parent company and “are fully ready and able to handle our flights”. The blame lies instead with the airport’s “central services and systems”, it says.
The airline accused Heathrow management of being “cavalier” about travelers and airlines, with signs of a strong recovery in travel visible for months. Emirates said it was getting ready, including hiring and training 1,000 pilots in the past year, but Heathrow was failing to act, plan or invest.
“Now facing an ‘airmageddon’ situation because of their incompetence and lack of action, they are shifting the entire burden – of costs and the effort to sort out the mess – onto airlines and travelers,” the statement said.
In response, Heathrow said it has been asking airlines for months to help draw up a plan to address their staffing challenges, “but no clear plans were forthcoming and with each passing day the problem got worse”.
“We had no choice but to take the difficult decision to introduce a capacity cap designed to give passengers a better and more reliable journey and to keep everyone working at the airport safe,” Heathrow said. “It would be disappointing if any airline, rather than working together, wanted to put profit ahead of a safe and reliable passenger journey.”
Rebooking so many potentially affected passengers is impossible because all flights for the next few weeks are full, including at other London airports and on other airlines, Emirates said. Moving some operations to other UK airports at short notice is also unrealistic, it said.
Elsewhere in Europe, Germany’s Lufthansa said this week it is cutting 2,000 more flights in Frankfurt and Munich, mostly in the afternoon and evening peak times, over the next week, on top of 770 flights it canceled from July 8 to 14 .
More planned flight cancellations in August “are possible at a later date”, the airline said.
London’s Gatwick and Amsterdam’s Schiphol airports also have limited daily flights or passenger numbers.