Heathrow chiefs tell airlines to reduce number of seats to meet cap

Heathrow flights could leave partially EMPTY after airport bosses tell airlines to reduce seats on flights – rather than cancel them – as stalemate continues with furious travel firms over plans to cap passenger numbers

  • Heathrow has reportedly told airlines to fly with emptier planes in order to comply with its new passenger cap
  • It comes after Heathrow imposed a 100,000 departing passengers a day cap in a bid to reduce holiday chaos
  • But Emirates yesterday launched a rebellion against Heathrow’s demands, by refusing to cancel any flights 
  • Comes after Department for Transport (DfT) and Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) wrote letter to Heathrow boss
  • They have asked CEO John Holland-Kaye to provide ‘credible’ recovery plan to get  airport back to business

Heathrow have reportedly told airlines to fly with emptier planes in order to comply with the airport’s controversial passenger cap.

Bosses at the west London airport have reportedly told carriers to consider reducing the number of seats – in some cases by as much as 25 per cent – on individual flights to avoid having to cancel them altogether. 

It comes amid a stalemate between the travel hub and airlines over the decision to cap the number of departing passengers to just 100,000 per day.

In order to meet the cap, airlines need to reduce the number of passengers by around 4,000 per day – which means cancelling around 1,000 flights this summer.

But airlines are reluctant to cut back on flights, while Emirates have flatly refused, describing Heathrow’s demands as ‘entirely unreasonable’.

In a bid to break the deadlock, Heathrow have reportedly suggested airlines fly with emptier planes. According to The Telegraph, the strategy was discussed at a virtual meeting between the airlines’ and Heathrow executives yesterday.

But such a move could result in thousands of passengers having their tickets cancelled at short notice. BA has proactively offered passengers flying before July 25 to move their flights to a later date free of charge.

It comes as the boss of Heathrow was today given a Government ultimatum to reveal his plan to end the continuing travel chaos ruining holidays for British holidaymakers.

Department for Transport (DfT) and Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) chiefs have written a joint letter to Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye urging he provide a ‘credible’ recovery plan to get the airport back to operating ‘reliably’ at a ‘stable level of capacity’.

They have also demanded to know why the airport believes a cap on daily departing passengers ‘provides a safe and resilient airport with a positive passenger experience’. 

Mr Holland-Kaye was reportedly given until noon on Friday to assure both groups that the airport has enough staff for security screening and to assist disabled passengers. It is not yet clear if this deadline has been met.

It comes as travellers today shared pictures on social media of long queues at the airport overnight, including one queue appearing to stretch down a hallway of Terminal 3.

On another day of airport chaos:

  • Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye was sent a letter asking him to assure the DfT and the CAA that the airport has a ‘credible’ recovery plan to get the airport back to operating ‘reliably’ at a ‘stable level of capacity’
  • It comes after a furious row broke out between Heathrow and Emirates after the airline refused to comply with an ‘unacceptable’ order to cut flights from its schedule;
  • An easyJet passenger whose flight was delayed by an hour due to baggage delays revealed how she watched a ground crew member sitting scrolling on his phone;
  • EasyJet crew members in Spain began a strike today over a wage dispute with bosses. The strike, involves staff at Barcelona, Malaga and Palma de Mallorca airports, is the second of three weekends of strike action planned by airline staff this month, with walkouts also scheduled for July 29-31;
  • Yesterday, easyJet Holidays chief Garry Wilson told the BBC that it had done ‘everything in its control’ to prevent flight cancellations and sure up its scheduling; 
  • Gatwick Airport ran out of water – leaving some passengers unable to use the toilets and some food outlets unable to serve meals and drinks.

Bosses at the west London airport (pictured: Queues at Terminal 3 today) have reportedly told carriers they should consider reducing the number of seats – in some cases by as much as 25 per cent – on individual flights to avoid having to cancel them altogether

The boss of Heathrow (pictured: Queues at the airport overnight shared by one user on Twitter) is facing a Government ultimatum to reveal his plan to end the continuing chaos – after an airline last night launched an open rebellion against the airport’s demands to cut the number of flights

It comes as travellers shared pictures on social media of long queues at the airport overnight, including one queue appearing to stretch down a hallway of Terminal 3 

Airline Emirates took aim at the west London airport (pictured: Queues overnight at Heathrow) over long queues, numerous flight cancellations, missing baggage and frequent delays, describing the situation as ‘airmageddon’

Department for Transport (DfT) and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) chiefs last night wrote a joint letter to Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye (pictured) urging he provide a ‘credible’ recovery plan to get the airport back to operating ‘reliably’ at a ‘stable level of capacity

The DfT and CAA last night ramped up the pressure on Heathrow following months of disruption at Heathrow, and other separately run UK airports.

DfT’s director general for aviation Dr Rannia Leontaridi and the CAA’s chief executive Richard Moriarty last night penned a letter requesting Mr Holland-Kaye’s assessment of why the airport’s passenger cap will work – after criticism from airlines including Emirates and Virgin Atlantic.

In the joint letter, they also wrote: ‘We need you to develop a credible and resilient capacity recovery plan for the next six months, that provides comfort that Heathrow can operate reliably at a stable level of capacity.’ 

Mr Holland-Kaye was reportedly given until midday today to respond to the letter. MailOnline has contacted the CAA and Heathrow to ask if that deadline has been met.

Emirates’ strongly-worded response to Heathrow’s passenger cap 

‘Emirates values our partnerships with airport stakeholders across our network with whom we engage continuously, and collaboratively, to secure our flight operations and ensure minimal customer disruption, particularly over the peak travel months.

‘It is therefore highly regrettable that LHR last evening gave us 36 hours to comply with capacity cuts, of a figure that appears to be plucked from thin air. Their communications not only dictated the specific flights on which we should throw out paying passengers, but also threatened legal action for non-compliance.

‘This is entirely unreasonable and unacceptable, and we reject these demands.

‘At London Heathrow airport (LHR), our ground handling and catering – run by dnata, part of the Emirates Group – are fully ready and capable of handling our flights. So the crux of the issue lies with the central services and systems which are the responsibility of the airport operator.

‘Emirates is a key and steadfast operator at LHR, having reinstated 6 daily A380 flights since October 2021. From our past 10 months of regularly high seat loads, our operational requirements cannot be a surprise to the airport.

‘Now, with blatant disregard for consumers, they wish to force Emirates to deny seats to tens of thousands of travellers who have paid for, and booked months ahead, their long-awaited package holidays or trips to see their loved ones. And this, during the super peak period with the upcoming UK holidays, and at a time when many people are desperate to travel after 2 years of pandemic restrictions.

‘Emirates believes in doing the right thing by our customers. However, re-booking the sheer numbers of potentially impacted passengers is impossible with all flights running full for the next weeks, including at other London airports and on other airlines. Adding to the complexity, 70% of our customers from LHR are headed beyond Dubai to see loved ones in far flung destinations, and it will be impossible to find them new onward connections at short notice.

‘Moving some of our passenger operations to other UK airports at such short notice is also not realistic. Ensuring ground readiness to handle and turnaround a widebody long-haul aircraft with 500 passengers onboard is not as simple as finding a parking spot at a mall.

‘The bottomline is, the LHR management team are cavalier about travellers and their airline customers. All the signals of a strong travel rebound were there, and for months, Emirates has been publicly vocal about the matter. We planned ahead to get to a state of readiness to serve customers and travel demand, including rehiring and training 1,000 A380 pilots in the past year.

‘LHR chose not to act, not to plan, not invest. Now faced with an ‘airmageddon’ situation due to their incompetence and non-action, they are pushing entire burden – of costs and the scramble to sort the mess – to airlines and travellers.

‘The shareholders of London Heathrow should scrutinise the decisions of the LHR management team.

‘Given the tremendous value that the aviation community generates for the UK economy and communities, we welcome the action taken by the UK Department for Transport and Civil Aviation Authority to seek information from LHR on their response plans, systems resilience, and to explain the seemingly arbitrary cap of 100,000 daily passengers. Considering LHR handled 80.9 million passengers annually in 2019, or a daily average of 219,000, the cap represents greater than a 50 per cent cut at a time when LHR claims to have 70% of ground handling resources in place.

‘Until further notice, Emirates plans to operate as scheduled to and from LHR.’


The CAA did not confirm if they had received a response. However a spokesperson said: ‘We remain in constant discussions with Heathrow Airport and the airlines. 

‘We continue to encourage all parties to collaborate effectively in minimising disruption for passengers this summer and ensure a positive passenger experience.’ 

It comes as British Airways last night started contacting passengers asking them to reschedule their flights amid a row between Heathrow and airlines over the airport’s passenger cap.

Bosses at the west London travel hub sparked fury from travel chiefs on Tuesday after announcing an immediate 100,000 daily passenger limit. It is part of the airport’s bid to reduce the risk of delay and cancellations ahead of the school summer holidays.

The move is expected to result in the cancellation of around 1,000 flights this summer. But it sparked a furious row between the airport and Emirates, who yesterday said it was refusing to comply, describing Heathrow’s demands as ‘entirely unreasonable’.

The Dubai-based airline also took aim at the west London airport following months of long queues, numerous flight cancellations, missing baggage and frequent delays, a situation it described as ‘airmageddon’. 

And Virgin Atlantic heaped on the criticism, saying the airport was responsible for failures which are contributing to the chaos. 

Meanwhile, airport chiefs ordered UK airlines to, ‘stop selling summer tickets to limit the impact on passengers’ because Heathrow is already expecting an average of 104,000 daily outbound passengers in the coming months. 

Carriers were yesterday said to be in intense discussions with the airport and flight schedulers in an attempt to cut capacity by up to 15 per cent at Terminals 3 and 5.

And BA has now started to contact passengers due to fly before July 25 if they are able to reschedule their flight. Industry insiders have suggested the company is filleting out flights in order to more easily make short-notice cancellations.

However MailOnline understands the UK flag carrier has made a ‘small number’ of short-haul and domestic cancellations over the next two weeks to fit in with Heathrow’s passenger cap. BA says it has moved passengers either onto trains or similar flights from Heathrow or City airports. 

Yesterday, travel expert Paul Charles, who runs travel consultancy the PC Agency, shared an email from BA to customers asking passengers travelling in the next fortnight if they would like to reschedule their flights for free.

BA said passengers could change their flights to another BA operated flight to any date within the next 12 months, subject to availability.

Commenting on the email, in a post on Twitter, Mr Charles wrote: ‘I said it would be a summer of stress. BA among airlines operating from Heathrow now asking those travelling before 25th July to consider changing flights, so enabling them to more easily choose which flights to cancel at short notice.’

The new measures, which are due to remain in place until September 11, are part of Heathrow’s latest attempts to prevent a school summer holiday repeat of the chaotic scenes witnessed at airports up and down the UK over the Easter weekend.  

Yesterday, in the latest update to the summer of airport chaos, BA began contacting customers by email asking if they are able to change their flights.

The email said: ‘This week Heathrow Airport has set a passenger limit per day until September 2022. As a result, they have told us to adjust our flying schedule to reduce the number of customers using the airport this summer.

‘We understand that some customers may want to review their travel plans in light of current travel challenges. We want to be as flexible as possible so that you can move your flights if you wish.

‘If you are due to travel between now and July 25 and you wish to change your flights we have introduced a policy that will allow you to easily change your travel dates via our website.’

The airline insists the move is to help passengers who are concerned about flying amid the travel chaos and the current summer heatwave, and that it has already rescheduled in preparation for Heathrow’s announcement.

MailOnline understands around 80 flights have been cancelled across the next fortnight. However BA insists its schedule is line with Heathrow’s request and they are not expecting to make any short-notice cancellations, unless in the case of technical issues.

It comes as an American airline has sent an empty plane to the UK to repatriate hundreds of lost suitcases caught up in Britain’s travel chaos – as an easyJet chief pointed the finger of blame at airports.

Delta Air Lines sent the Airbus SE A330-200 to Heathrow Airport last night to bring back the bags, which have been following a baggage backlog at the west London travel hub.

The backlog stretches back from a technical glitch earlier this month which resulted in thousands of bags being stacked up outside Terminal 2, creating what some described as a ‘sea of luggage’. 

A spokesperson for Delta added: ‘Delta teams worked a creative solution to move delayed checked bags from London-Heathrow on July 11 after a regularly scheduled flight had to be cancelled given airport passenger volume restrictions at Heathrow. 

‘Delta flight 9888 from Heathrow to Delta’s Detroit hub flew 1,000 bags back to the US, where teams then forwarded the bags on to our customers.’

British Airways (pictured: Library image) has started contacting passengers to ask if they are able to reschedule their flights amid a row between Heathrow and airlines over its decision to cap the number of passengers travelling through the airport

It comes after travel expert Paul Charles today shared an email from BA to customers asking passengers travelling in the next fortnight if they would like to reschedule their flights for free

Yesterday, as the blame game continued, Garry Wilson, chief executive of EasyJet Holidays, easyJet’s holiday wing, said the airline had done ‘everything in its control’ to prevent flight cancellations and sure up the resilience in its scheduling.  

The budget airline cancelled more than 4,000 flights in the three months to the end of June in a bid to prevent a repeat of the chaotic scenes witnessed at airports over the Easter Holidays.

Mr Wilson told the BBC: ‘We’ve done everything in our control to ensure there’s resilience in the system. There may be other things happening – like air traffic control delays, or with airport infrastructure.’

EasyJet staff in Spain go on strike today over pay 

Easyjet staff in Spain are set to take part in a walkout today following a row with bosses over pay.

As many as 450 workers based at Barcelona, Malaga and Palma de Mallorca are set to take part in the strike – which will also stretch over the weekend.

It is the second of three weekends of strike action planned by airline staff this month, with walkouts also scheduled for July 29-31.

Earlier action took place on the first weekend of July.

The strikes are taking place over a wage dispute between cabin crew and airline bosses.

Travel firms have been blamed for the chaotic scenes at airports. Airlines and airports have been accused of failing to prepare for the return of international travel following the lifting of Covid restrictions earlier this year.

But airlines and airports have in turn blamed the Government, who they say left companies with no choice but to make job cuts by failing to extend the Covid furlough scheme for holiday firms until all travel restrictions had been lifted.

Mr Wilson rejected the suggestion EasyJet had failed to prepare for the summer. He said: ‘No, I think with the information we had at the time, we took all the steps that were necessary. As soon as we knew there was strain on the system, we built up that resilience, by taking flights out.’

MailOnline has contacted Heathrow Airport for a comment. 

In a response to Emirates’ statement on the passenger cap, a Heathrow spokeswoman said aviation is ‘a complex network’ and ‘no-one can operate in isolation’.

She explained that staffing for ground handling teams at the airport are only at 70 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, whereas passenger numbers are at 80-85 per cent.

She added: ‘For months we have asked airlines to help come up with a plan to solve their resourcing 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 impose a capacity cap designed to give passengers a better, more reliable journey and to keep everyone working at the airport safe.’

The spokeswoman noted the cap is ‘significantly higher’ than the 64,000 imposed at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport.

‘It would be disappointing if instead of working together, any airline would want to put profit ahead a safe and reliable passenger journey,’ she added.

In December last year, Heathrow said it expected passenger numbers for 2022 to reach around 45 million. It subsequently raised its forecast to ‘nearly 53 million’ in May, and 54.4 million in June.

Terminal 4 was only reopened on June 14, some three months after the UK lifted all remaining coronavirus travel restrictions.  It was the last terminal at a major European airport to resume operations during the pandemic.

Passengers ‘pass out’ at Gatwick as flight delays leave them stuck waiting ‘without air conditioning or ventilation’ – and burst water main wreaks havoc for stricken holidaymakers 

Passengers ‘passed out’ at Gatwick Airport yesterday as hundreds of travellers were crammed into a small room ‘without ventilation or AC’ in the middle of one of the hottest heatwaves in years.

The fed-up flyers were reportedly given no information about their WestJet flight to Toronto, which was delayed for several hours as a result of an IT issue. 

A number of customers took to social media to express their frustration, with one reporting that just two airport employees were made available to manage a group of 300.

One wrote: ‘There are Canadians passing out at Gatwick airport due to the lack of support and flight delays with Westjet today. People citing rude staff too. I had a rude experience with Westjet at Gatwick too. Please investigate this for news updates? I’m very curious.’

Another said: ‘Absolutely disgusting from @WestJet today. Have been at @Gatwick_Airport since 10:30 am stood in queue after queue. Now waiting in a room with no ventilation or AC. Whilst we are all kept in the dark about our flight to Toronto.’

A third added: ‘Hey @WestJet can we please get ANY info on flight WS41 from @Gatwick_Airport to YYZ? We are crammed into a small, hot waiting area with no ventilation and not one staff member can give us information. Please tell us what’s going on!’

A burst water main nearby has lead to low water pressure at the terminal, wreaking more havoc at the already under-pressure airport

A spokesperson for the Canadian airline confirmed it had been impacted by an outage from communications infrastructure firm, Zayo – though said check-in services were restored before 5pm.

They added: ‘Across our network we have seen three cancellations and more than 100 flights have been delayed as a result of the outage. We continue to thank all guests for their patience and will reaccommodate on the first available flight to ensure they get to their destination as soon as possible.’ 

It came as a burst water main in nearby Crawley resulted in low water pressure at the airport and malfunctioning toilets – creating even more chaos for stricken holidaymakers already facing cancelled and delayed flights.

Gatwick staff handed out bottles of water and brought water tankers on site, with only a limited number of toilets working. While some restaurants had to close earlier, the airport said all had reopened by 5pm.

The airport apologised and said it was working closely with SES Water, who insisted just before 7pm that ‘the problem has been resolved’.

Raquel Rodrigues, 49, from Worthing, said ahead of her flight to Spain: ‘We had a flight cancelled already and now there are no toilets. There are only two working in the whole terminal and you can imagine what the queues are like.

‘Nobody wants the airport to close but there are heated exchanges between staff and people trying to travel with young families. Apparently, there is a tanker coming but it’s just a bit third world.’

A Gatwick spokesperson denied that there were just two toilets working at any one time, and told MailOnline: ‘Following an earlier issue with the supply of SES Water to Gatwick and the surrounding area, which led to lower water pressure than normal, water supplies have now been restored across the airport. 

‘Our teams are working to ensure all facilities are restored to normal levels of service. We apologise for any inconvenience our passengers experienced today.’ 

A spokesman for SES Water said: ‘We are pleased to confirm that our teams are currently repairing the burst water main in Shipley Bridge, Horley, and we expect supplies to be restored to normal soon. 

‘We’re sorry for any inconvenience caused today and thank you for your patience and understanding.’

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