A long-haul COVID-19 recovery for passenger levels at Heathrow

Posted: 11 January 2022 | | No comments yet

Aviation is in for a long-haul recovery as the current Omicron variant causes at least 600,000 passengers to cancel travel plans during December 2021 from London Heathrow Airport.

A long-haul COVID-19 recovery for passenger levels at Heathrow

Omicron variant causes at least 600,000 passengers to cancel travel plans in December 2021. Credit: London Heathrow Airport (LHR)

As COVID-19 continues to pose significant challenges for the travel industry, London Heathrow Airport (LHR) welcomed only 19.4 million passengers in 2021 – less than one quarter of 2019 and below even 2020 levels.

At least 600,000 passengers cancelled travel plans from Heathrow in December 2021 due to the Omicron variant and the uncertainty caused by swiftly imposed government travel restrictions.

There is significant doubt over the speed at which demand will recover. International Air Transport Association (IATA) forecasts suggest passenger numbers will not reach pre-COVID-19-pandemic levels until 2025, provided travel restrictions are removed at both ends of a route and passengers have confidence they will not return rapidly.

Heathrow urges the UK government to remove all testing now for fully vaccinated passengers and to adopt a playbook for any future Variants of Concern that is more predictable, limits additional measures only to passengers from high-risk destinations, and allows quarantine at home instead of in a hotel.

This creates enormous uncertainty for the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in setting a new five-year regulatory settlement. The focus should be on improving passenger service, aligning incentives for airlines and airports to work together to rebuild passenger demand and maintaining affordable private financing in uncertain times. This is a chance to safeguard a world-leading hub airport for Britain and avoid a return to the ‘Heathrow hassle’ days of the early 2000s, undermining the UK’s global trading ambitions.

Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said: “There are currently travel restrictions, such as testing, on all Heathrow routes – the aviation industry will only fully recover when these are all lifted and there is no risk that they will be reimposed at short notice, a situation which is likely to be years away. While this creates enormous uncertainty for the CAA in setting a new five year regulatory settlement, it means the regulator must focus on an outcome that improves service, incentivises growth, and maintains affordable private financing.” 

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