Heathrow Expects A Long Road To Recovery

With the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic still being felt around the world almost two years since the beginning of the emergency, air passenger numbers are still far from what they used to be in 2019, especially with regards to international services. London’s Heathrow Airport, the largest airport of the British capital and once the airport with the highest number of international passengers in the world, is still recovering from the collapse in demand caused by government restrictions and is bracing for the impact of the new limitations introduced to curb the spread of the new “omicron” variant.

Last week the airport announced that it expects to end 2021 with a total number of approximately 45 million passengers, just over half of what the airport recorded in 2019. During the last year of pre-pandemic operation, Heathrow recorded 80,890,031 passengers, over 76 million of which were international.

The figures are in line with the long-term forecast elaborated both by the U.K. Civil Aviation Authority and by the International Air Transport Association that were predicting international traffic to reach 60% of 2019 levels by the end of 2021. It is however a significant improvement over the numbers that had been recorded in 2020, when the many months during which operations had almost come to a halt had caused traffic to collapse to levels not seen since the 1970s, with just over 22 million passengers served.

Heathrow is expecting a soft start of 2022, given the current uncertainty linked to the new measures recently put in place by the British government to contain the diffusion of the new Covid-19 variant. Passengers arriving in the U.K. from all countries are now required to present a pre-flight test and also to take a post-flight test once arrived at their destination. This has caused a high level of cancelation, especially among business passengers, who are reluctant to travel due to a higher risk of being trapped overseas.

“We do not expect that international travel will recover to 2019 levels until at least all travel restrictions (including testing) are removed from all the markets that we serve, at both ends of the route, and there is no risk of new restrictions, such as quarantine, being imposed,” the airport said in a note.

The management of the airport is encouraging Ministers to reduce restrictions as soon as possible to allow travelers coming from countries currently on the U.K. “red list” to isolate at home during the Christmas holidays.

“By allowing Brits to isolate at home, Ministers can make sure they are reunited with their loved ones this Christmas. It would send a strong signal that restrictions on travel will be removed as soon as safely possible to give passengers the confidence to book for 2022, opening up thousands of new jobs for local people at Heathrow. Let’s reunite families for Christmas,” said John Holland-Kaye, CEO of Heathrow Airport.

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