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SOLD OUT: Heathrow tells all airlines to stop selling ANY flights until 11th September

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The Summer air travel situation took a surprising turn on Tuesday when Heathrow effectively stopped airlines from selling any further seats for flights this Summer.

In an open letter, Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said that the airport had realised that it was, effectively, no longer possible for it to offer the level of service it wanted this Summer and that something had to give. This is especially true for ground handling staff – albeit these are not employed by the airport – which are still chronically below the number required.

Heathrow tells BA (and other airlines) to stop selling tickets for the Summer period

Kaye’s solution is to cap Heathrow passenger numbers at 100,000 per day for the Summer period, which they are specifying as ending on 11th September.

This would be fine, except that airlines have already sold an average of 101,500 tickets per day and seats are still on sale.

Effectively immediately, Heathrow has requested:

  • the closure for sale of all flights departing from the airport until 11th September
  • a reduction in the expected passenger numbers from 101,500 to 100,000 per day

Whilst airlines are not legally bound to follow this, Heathrow will respond by forcing airlines to cancel additional flights if they do not do so.

One way or another, only 100,000 people per day are flying from the airport this Summer.

Whilst not discussed in this letter, the airport is also believed to be considering restrictions on checked luggage and, as it did yesterday for same-day rebooking, banning airlines from rebooking passengers whose flights are cancelled, since this does not nothing to reduce passenger numbers in total.

Heathrow tells BA (and other airlines) to stop selling tickets for the Summer period

Here is the full statement:

The global aviation industry is recovering from the pandemic, but the legacy of COVID continues to pose challenges for the entire sector as it rebuilds capacity.  At Heathrow, we have seen 40 years of passenger growth in just four months. Despite this, we managed to get the vast majority of passengers away smoothly on their journeys through the Easter and half term peaks. This was only possible because of close collaboration and planning with our airport partners including airlines, airline ground handlers and Border Force.   

We started recruiting back in November last year in anticipation of capacity recovering this summer, and by the end of July, we will have as many people working in security as we had pre-pandemic. We have also reopened and moved 25 airlines into Terminal 4 to provide more space for passengers and grown our passenger service team.    

New colleagues are learning fast but are not yet up to full speed. However, there are some critical functions in the airport which are still significantly under resourced, in particular ground handlers, who are contracted by airlines to provide check-in staff, load and unload bags and turnaround aircraft. They are doing the very best they can with the resources available and we are giving them as much support possible, but this is a significant constraint to the airport’s overall capacity. 

However, over the past few weeks, as departing passenger numbers have regularly exceeded 100,000 a day, 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. This is due to a combination of reduced arrivals punctuality (as a result of delays at other airports and in European airspace) and increased passenger numbers starting to exceed the combined capacity of airlines, airline ground handlers and the airport.  Our colleagues are going above and beyond to get as many passengers away as possible, but we cannot put them at risk for their own safety and wellbeing.   

Last month, the DfT and CAA wrote to the sector asking us all to review our plans for the summer and ensure we were prepared to manage expected passenger levels safely and minimise further disruption. Ministers subsequently implemented a slot amnesty programme to encourage airlines to remove flights from their schedules with no penalty. We held off putting additional controls on passenger numbers until this amnesty process concluded last Friday and we had a clearer view of the reductions that airlines have made.    

Some airlines have taken significant action, but others have not, and we believe that further action is needed now to ensure passengers have a safe and reliable journey.  We have therefore made the difficult decision to introduce a capacity cap with effect from 12 July to 11 September. Similar measures to control passenger demand have been implemented at other airports both in the UK and around the world.  

“Our assessment is that the maximum number of daily departing passengers that airlines, airline ground handlers and the airport can collectively serve over the summer is no more than 100,000. The latest forecasts indicate that even despite the amnesty, daily departing seats over the summer will average 104,000 – giving a daily excess of 4,000 seats. On average only about 1,500 of these 4,000 daily seats have currently been sold to passengers, and so we are asking our airline partners to stop selling summer tickets to limit the impact on passengers.   

“By making this intervention now, our objective is to protect flights for the vast majority of passengers at Heathrow this summer and to give confidence that everyone who does travel through the airport will have a safe and reliable journey and arrive at their destination with their bags. We recognise that this will mean some summer journeys will either be moved to another day, another airport or be cancelled and we apologise to those whose travel plans are affected.   

“The airport will still be busy, as we are trying to get as many people away as possible, and we ask you to bear with us if it takes a little longer to check in, go through security or collect your bag than you are used to at Heathrow.  We ask passengers to help, by making sure they have completed all their COVID requirements online before they come to the airport, by not arriving earlier than 3 hours before their flight, by being ready for security with laptops out of bags and liquids, aerosols and gels in a sealed 100ml plastic bag, and by using e-gates in immigration where eligible. We are all recruiting as fast as we can and aim to return to the excellent service you should expect from the UK’s hub airport as soon as possible.”   

Comments (292)

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  • Mikel says:

    11th September ?. They’ve just cancelled my 13 September flight to Barcelona.

    • Gordon says:

      I’m flying on the 14th 😬

      • AJA says:

        You currently think you are 😉

        • Gordon says:

          I’ve had so many cancellations over the last 2 years it’s like water off a ducks back,I count myself lucky I’m flexible I can pick anytime in the year AJA 😉

      • MikeL says:

        Putting me behind the 8 ball as it’s to tie in with a cruise on the 15th. Cruise with no luggage is not advised either. So much uncertainty.

  • MH says:

    There are endless comments on here about how this is due to cost cutting, staff cuts etc. I’m afraid you are just plain wrong. The issues are because there just are not enough people to recruit. Most businesses in the uk are struggling to recruit at the moment, and if you employ in the tens of thousands then that issue is amplified. The airport, airlines, baggage handlers, border force, retailers etc etc etc at the airports are all simply unable to recruit the staff they need. It doesn’t matter how much money they throw at it (and trust me, they are) there just simply isn’t the labour available. There is a labour shortage in this country following the pandemic and brexit, and until that is solved then the issues will continue.

    • John says:

      I’d do any of those jobs for £75000 per year.

      • meta says:

        Have you read the press release? They plainly state that they will have enough staff by the end of month (two weeks away!). They just don’t know how to train them. Pure incompetence!

        • JDB says:

          @meta the training (including time taken, testing, retesting etc) is determined by DfT and the full staffing by end July in the press release refers only to security staff, not the real problem/staff shortage area which is baggage / ground handlers which is nothing to do with HAL.

    • Brian78 says:

      Pay them more and they’ll easily find staff

    • Chrisasaurus says:

      Trust me, they are not. They pay a wage that the deem fair and sustainable but other sectors are paying more and with a compelling package too. I’d do anything they asked of me for enough money and tens of thousands would too, they just don’t believe they can sustainably pay enough.

      Secondary to that, training (including where needed screening etc) takes time and they didn’t give themselves enough if it. Already too late to fix that.

      • kiran_mk2 says:

        Exactly – the fire and rehire on worse pay and conditions has blown up in several companies’ faces. This is the free market / capitalism in action. Employers have a choice – pay the going rate (i.e. higher salaries) or make do with out (lower revenues). Isn’t this exactly what Brexit promised – higher wages?

        I guess people will come to realise that higher wages at all levels just leads to inflation – what’s the point of a 10% pay rise if everything costs 15% more because of that?

    • callum says:

      You completely misunderstand the UK economy. There is NOT a labour shortage, nor will there be in the foreseeable future – there are 1.3 million unemployed people in the UK, and the youth unemployment rate is around 11%.

      The shortage is in people who are willing to work for low/poverty pay. It therefore absolutely DOES matter how much money you throw at it – the higher you make the wage, the more staff you’ll attract. There’s a reason why industries who recently made significant pay increases no longer have staff shortages.

      The actual question is whether the increased pay is sustainable – will the market pay the correct price for tickets or should the industry contract.

  • Reno says:

    “LEGACY of Covid”, they have the nerve to write, as the UK reaches its highest ever number of cases !

    I guess the industry is now reaping the rewards of their idiotic, short-sighted lobbying against mask mandates, and I won’t be shedding any tears for them.

    We flew LUX-LCY on BA last week with a healthy baby (no other choice) who’s too young to mask. I learnt that two parents armed with portable air filters aren’t a match for 70-ish gleefully unmasked, coughing passengers. She caught Covid and ended up in paediatric A&E over the weekend, and gave it to us too.

    It’s truly beyond me why an industry so bent on a myriad of safety rules against one in a million events, can’t be bothered to add a single minor inconvenience (masking on a 1 hour flight !) at the height of a global pandemic in order to shield its customers from clear and present danger (1 in 10 infections resulting in “long Covid” disabilities). “Personal choice” my a***.

    So, screw them, I’ll transfer my 300K Avios out to Nectar until society has come out of collective denial, and fly on the handful of airlines/countries that have the courtesy not to f***ing get you sick.

    • Thywillbedone says:

      One of the most ridiculous posts I’ve read in some time (and that’s saying something). If you are high risk (or highly strung), stay at home. End of.

      • Reno says:

        None of us were high risk. Maybe you need a reality check on how common bad outcomes of Covid are.

        A family shouldn’t be faced with the choice of staying home or ending up in A&E to appease idiotic selfish whiners who feel they’re going to suffocate wearing a piece of fabric for an hour. Grow a pair.

        • KP says:

          Agree

          • meta says:

            But how do you know that the person coughing was sick with covid? There could be myriad reasons why they were coughing. You could have caught it on you way to the airport. Anywhere really, incubation period can be long.

        • Thywillbedone says:

          And what happens when they take the mask off to eat or drink? You’re delusional (and hysterical). Stay at home and save everyone around you the grief.

          • Reno says:

            Strawman argument. A 90% risk reduction is fine, nobody’s asking for more than reasonable, good faith efforts and common courtesy.

            If you think that’s hysterical you must be a sociopath.

          • Reno says:

            Strawman argument. A 90% risk reduction is fine, nobody’s asking for more than reasonable, good faith efforts and common courtesy.

            If you think that’s hysterical you must be a sociopath.

          • NorthernLass says:

            Poor baby – I hope she’s better now. Unfortunately they are at higher risk of picking up infections at that age because their immune systems are still developing. It’s a tricky one – there could be an infected person on a flight with a genuine mask exemption, so where do you draw the line?

          • Reno says:

            @Northernlass Genuine medical exemptions for mask wearing are in fact extremely few & far between. Nobody’s asking for perfection here.

            @meta We drove there and were isolating for days before. Incubation is in fact around 2 days with the latest variant. There’s no doubt we caught it either at the airport or on the flight. Again, not asking for perfection but grown up, reasonable, proportionate measures commensurate with the current risk vs inconvenience, instead of just “lalala we’re fed up with this so let’s pretend it’s over”.

          • bafan says:

            +1.

        • StanTheMan says:

          Should have let the train take the train. And put on a biohazard suit.

        • meta says:

          @Reno I’m really sorry that your baby got sick. I am all for masking and being cautious (I do mask on public transport), but the thing is that you can catch it anywhere and you can’t blame the particular passenger on your flight. You came into contact with many people at the airport and even if you are isolating you’re at risk (delivery person, postman, etc.).

      • Daniel says:

        +1. Stay at home dude.

    • Reno says:

      And for anyone doubting just how much long Covid has to do with labour shortages, don’t take my word for it :

      “Long Covid now major cause of long-term job absence, say quarter of UK employers”
      https://www.ft.com/content/33444f29-bab1-4655-85b5-c0b1f68d9653

      “Long Covid: the invisible public health crisis fuelling labour shortages”
      https://www.ft.com/content/8b9166af-2e85-4429-ab1f-362c189e46f2

      “COVID’s chronic effects increasingly loom large”
      https://www.ft.com/content/63dcc4d1-8b53-4110-bd44-10e3d1d98585

      Funny to see pro-business types suddenly understand that pitting the economy against health was always going to lose us both.

      • kiran_mk2 says:

        The perfect storm of the last few years is truly hitting now. Brexit cutting off the supply of cheap labour, covid causing a myriad of problems (large numbers of deaths, people in their 60s deciding to retire early, long covid sufferers either cutting working hours or dropping out of the job market) and large redundancy rounds.
        I find it funny that the pro-business types are lamenting the fact that people are not turning up to work for pitiful salaries which is pure capitalism in action.
        @Reno really hope your daughter gets well soon and none of you have any long term impact.

    • John says:

      We endured a 2.5 hour flight last month seated in front a girl who was maskless (as was everybody) and coughing her lungs up. She coughed at the gate, while locked in the boarding stairwell, while onboard, and finally breezed down the aircraft steps to cough in the face of a ground handler. In that moment, I thought, if a baggage trolley were to run her down I would probably thank its driver. We’re now home; coughing, Covid negative, but keeping away from people.

      • Jek says:

        That cough may have been the lasting effect of her having had COVID. My own coughing only started after two weeks of COVID when I already tested negative and is going on for weeks. It’s very common for the current strain. It’s annoying for both, the one who coughs and the ones surrounding.

        So please don’t equate of coughing with being sick.

        • callum says:

          Coughing is, by definition, being sick!

          You can certainly argue that they may no longer be Covid-positive, and therefore not spreading covid, but there are plenty of other illnesses that spread by coughing.

          The complete lack of interest such an enormous proportion of the population has in trying to reduce the chance that they’re going to make others around them sick has been the biggest eye-opener to me during this pandemic. The “if you don’t want to catch my illness then you should lock yourself up at home indefinitely” brigade are particularly abhorrent. Ditto for the infuriating number of people who refuse to wear a mask while in the hospital, surrounded by weak and vulnerable people.

          I was never a big fan of the human race, I’m at a whole new level now though!

          • Lady London says:

            +1 @Callum. The sheer selfishness has been breathtaking.

            Unfortunately it looks like this is the human race. What’s shockingbis how open the nastiness and self-interest is, the UK seems to be worse, much worse in selfish gits just openly walking over everybody else. When the cost to them of a little care is minmal compared to the potential danger of their actions to someone else.

          • Skywalker says:

            Coughing is also a natural response to dust, and not always a response to being sick, but actually a sign your body is working as it should be to remove foreign bodies.

            In my case however, I am asthmatic – I cough at the slightest sign of many an irritant, the mask is at times difficult and the death stares I receive for coughing is awful – it is probably more socially acceptable these days to break wind, but if you’re all wearing your masks, this shouldn’t be a problem 😀

            Please spare a thought for those suffering from certain cancers too, and may not even be aware of it.

            The take home: not every cough is a covid cough!

            🙁

    • numpty says:

      Unfortunately the UK gov got the mask message all wrong at the start of the pandemic and never recovered it i.e. if you wear a mask you will touch your face more and more likely to catch it.

      Everyone is an expert it seems, social responsibility and looking after the weakest in society is inconvenient. By example, a senior and professionally qualified colleague explained to me openly that he thinks he has covid but isnt go to test as he has a weekend away booked and has no intention of cancelling it.

    • Dave says:

      One of the most ignorant posts i’ve ever read on here. Especially the fact you think wearing a mask would in anyway stop you catching COVID.

      If you seem so concerned about COVID why are you even on a plane? Why are you not mad that excess death is currently at around 1300 people a day in the UK from blood clots and heart issues? and are not even COVID related? (take 1 guess what the root cause is… jibby jabby Phyzer anyone?)

      Yet we have less than 500 deaths total in England over the last 2 years that can be directly attributed to COVID itself with no comorbidities and you want everyone wearing nappies on their face and other madness.

      • Jek says:

        Remove your tin foil hat and get informed. Shut down your telegram account and stop watching YouTube. It’s not what one calls research.

        Such a post on the day the UK has recorded 200,000 COVID deaths!

    • Lady London says:

      Reno my sympathies.

      What I don’t understand is… I thought when Covid started and they were still trying to fly airlines put out all this publicity about HEPA filters on their aircraft being hospital quality and air scrubbed six times per minute etc…

      Was that not true?

  • Quark999 says:

    I don’t know your circumstances, but travelling with a small baby at the moment does result in a large risk of catching Covid at the moment, and irrespective of wearing masks or not, the safer option would be not to travel – so everyone makes their own risk assessments on these things. Which includes the choice not to travel, and the choice to wear masks. You can’t really decide it’s worth the risk to travel, but then be diasappointed by those that chose not to wear a mask…

    • Reno says:

      “I don’t know your circumstances, but driving on a Saturday night does result in a large risk of getting involved in an accident with a drunk driver. Everyone makes their own risk assessments on drinking and driving. You can’t decide it’s worth the risk to take the road, but then be disappointed by those that choose to drink and drive”

    • Chrisasaurus says:

      I don’t know your circumstances, but going out on a Saturday night does result in a large risk of getting involved in a sexual assault. Everyone makes their own risk assessments on going out at night. You can’t decide it’s worth the risk to go out, but then be disappointed by those that choose to assault women”

      • Quark999 says:

        Right – so you have decided that not wearing masks against Covid is akin to drinking and driving and sexual assault.
        The balance was a bit different when there was no vaccinations, but at least now the majority of society does not agree.

  • R says:

    Not sure whether anyone else has already made this point, but if HAL had used the pandemic (or even now chose) to upgrade the security infrastructure, it would achieve great progress forward in the passenger experience. I don’t about security scanning on checked bags, but even in Israel – surely the most security conscious country in the world – there are no liquids restrictions on hand baggage, because they have scanners that can handle liquids. Ditto in other places (even at or coming to LCY) there are scanners that dont require laptops etc. to be removed. And how about the US system of allowing top tier (and other trusted) flyers who pose a lower security risk, access to dedicated security lines with simpler checking processes ?

    • Rhys says:

      Heathrow have been trialling these scanners for years but there seems to be very little movement on actually rolling them out widescale. Even in the T5 First Wing they’re using the old ones. Silly really.

      • JDB says:

        The rollout will be determined by the DfT which has changed the spec significantly at various stages and the regulator who will determine the permitted funding to be confirmed in the autumn after the consultation on the recent final proposals.

        I am a bit surprised you suggest the First wing should get the new kit first; in a modern large organisation suggesting prioritising things in that way does not go down well. There are in fact quite a few ‘new’ machines installed around LHR but they still use them in the same way as the ‘old’ ones for the time being because they are concerned that pax will then not take things out at an ‘old’ machine.

        • Rhys says:

          I don’t think that’s true. In 2019, the DfT said it was requiring all airports to have the new 3D scanners by the end of 2022. Granted the timeline may have slipped with covid but that suggests the regulatory side of things was all finished by then.

          If you’re trialling new equipment putting it in a smaller zone where you are likely to have more repeat customers who fly every week seems logical, rather than trying to change the behaviour of people who only fly once or twice a year. It would avoid the exact confusion to passengers you highlight by having them in the main security lanes 🙂

          • JDB says:

            The DfT requirements have changed more than once since 2019. There are other small areas where training and testing can be more effectively carried out. I am sure that you have observed the extraordinary passenger incompetence at security even in the F wing. It also seems to be getting worse as people are taking ever increasing amounts of hand luggage (and apparently coats laden with packing!) to avoid checking in bags.

            The money for this security rollout and the new T2 baggage system has not yet been signed off; final consultation ends 9 August and final decision in the autumn.

    • Brian78 says:

      The liquid stuff is a load of nonsense, presumably to appease America.

    • John says:

      SNN in the west of Ireland (a rare US CBP pre-clearance airport) has also abolished liquid limits.

    • ChrisC says:

      You mean in the same way BA couks have used the time to refit CS on all its planes and refurbish the lounges?

      In the beginning it simply wasn’t possible as there was basically a ban on non essential working.

      And many organisations stopped capital spending.

      Then there were supply chain issues that would have stopped that anyway.

      Then the staff using these machines need training on using them and assessing the image. Assessing a 3D image is harder than a 2D one and takes longer,

      But one of the biggest delays at security is caused by passengers simply not being ready for it and ignoring any sort of instructions from staff.

      • Lady London says:

        I’d like a families-with-young-children-only queue where there would be someone on the feed side approaching each family and helping them get their stuff organised to go through the machine.

  • NorthernLass says:

    Well BA is still selling flights to GCM among other destinations – out of nervousness I checked to see if our return next week is likely to be oversold and noted that a return trip in J departing in the next few days is now £7,700! So more than 3 times my cash ticket and a pretty good deal on the 241 OH and son are travelling on. Not putting it past BA to mess with our LHR-MAN leg though, which is currently selling for £617, one way in economy …

    • Nick says:

      Oddly, and great for you Anna, the few MAN flights still scheduled are being prioritised at the moment because it’s entirely connections to longhaul and there aren’t enough rebooking options for everyone who would be affected. If your flight is closed to all but Y class, it’s close to full and should operate. If it’s closed to Y/B then this means there’s a bit of extra space. But in any case, scotland is much more likely to be hit by domestic cancellations than MAN over the next few weeks, because there’s more space/flights in general, there are more P2P customers who are easier to fix, and BA has a reprotection agreement with LNER (who don’t serve the MAN area but do scotland).

  • Niall says:

    So the big question is how long BA will continue to sell flights and if they will throughout summer continue to sell expensive tickets and cancel cheap ones. Doing so would hurt their ability not to pay compensation.

    Wouldn’t it be great if BA did something reasonable and smart here. I have multiple flights with them and from Heathrow this summer that are for social and not super essential work reasons. I would gladly give up my seat voluntarily and allow them to use my spot for something more lucrative if they would just in advance / asap do something like:
    – Offer a voucher for a value at least a little higher than the value I paid for the flights (say 1.5x or £100 more). Then I just wouldn’t make the trips and be happy.
    – Offer a rerouting with another airline/other airport again with some token compensation. This may cost them but at least they could try to arrange something to keep their costs down and hotel etc costs would be lower.
    – Really offer anything at all to give me a reason to voluntarily give up my space! An upgrade voucher, a status extension, anything.

    Otherwise I will certainly cost them more by making use of their duty of care obligations with whatever rerouting options they give me. And if they do continue selling while cancelling then a compensation claim too.

    • JDB says:

      BA doesn’t yet know what to cancel in respect of the pax cap except in the coming days. The allocation of the cuts is yet to be determined by the independent slot controller.

      • Niall says:

        Oh, this is interesting. So the slot controller will decide the number of passengers to limit the individual airlines to, or the actual slots?

        • JDB says:

          I don’t believe the exact process has yet been established but it is all very complex because there isn’t just a daily cap, there are also peak time caps to smooth the flow of pax. It is also complicated by the fact that BA made huge cancellations in response to the slot amnesty whereas many other airlines at LHR didn’t (even if they had to at their home bases in many cases) so keeping all this fair is quite tricky. It’s awkward for BA as they have already shredded flights on many multi service short haul routes so finding cuts is getting much harder. The reality is that there are still going to be lots of last minute cancellations, particularly if covid cases continue to run at over 300k/day.

          • ChrisC says:

            In normal times when there is the need for cancellations for say weather or ATC issues the largest airlines took the greatest hit – because they usually had the flexibility to move people to other flight whereas the once or twice a day airline didn’t.

            In the current one they should hit those airlines that haven’t already trimmed their schedules harder than those that have. That would protect those latter airlines somewhat.

          • Niall says:

            Good points! An unenviable job and hope it works out fairly for BA.

            I hope that this system does get worked out quickly in the coming days and BAs cancellation requirements are made clear. Following that, it would be nice if they would do something to incentivise those of us for who can easily postpone/scrap our trips if needed. The equivalent of asking people at the airport who’d be willing to get the next flight, although in this case potentially a flight months away or to another airport.

            Perhaps the economics doesn’t work out doing this… but it would be annoying to see BA cancelling trips too far into this (for non covid reasons and after they have the requirements to plan with) to use their passenger cap to maximise profits.

  • Alan says:

    So glad I’m not having to go near Heathrow until September!

    • Liz says:

      Received and email this aft cancelling both domestic legs for our Chicago flights and the return was on 19/9 – got through on the phone after 45 mins and got revised flights sorted but when she went to confirm the booking it threw up an error. She then tried to transfer me to someone else and after another hour on hold the line went dead as it was after 8 pm. Tried the USA number too and it is just busy and not taking calls. Happy days!

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