Heathrow says current surge in demand for air travel will drop off to ‘winter freeze’: Airport’s boss warns of ‘uncertain outlook’ due to fears over 4th Covid wave and Ukraine war as he defends ticket price hike despite queue chaos
- West London airport expects to see more than 52m passengers this year alone
- It hiked landing fees charges by a third in January to cover its spiraling losses
- Heathrow chief exec John Holland-Kaye warned demand remains ‘very volatile’
- Insiders predict a ‘winter freeze’ that will ensure it remains loss-making in 2022
Bosses at Heathrow Airport warn the current surge in demand will subside in a ‘winter freeze’ as the UK’s busiest flight hub expects to remain loss-making throughout 2022.
The west London airport, which expects to see more than 52million passengers this year alone, is not expecting a return to profit-making despite a recent deluge of travellers.
Passenger numbers are expected to return to around 65% of pre-pandemic levels, after Heathrow announced since it had lost £4billion since March 2020.
But the airport’s chief executive John Holland-Kaye warned demand remains ‘very volatile’ as fears of a fourth wave of Covid, skyrocketing global oil prices and the conflict in Ukraine all continue to affect consumer confidence.
The airport is predicting a ‘winter freeze’ that will follow the bursting of a booming summer travel ‘bubble’, with major airlines already canning autumn flights.
Heathrow hopes to further hike airlines’ landing charges to accelerate it’s recovery from the pandemic despite nine million travellers passing through the airportin the first three months of the year.
It comes as thousands of passengers hoping for a relaxing Easter getaway were hit with huge queues at airports across the UK as the aviation industry buckled under a surge in last-minute bookings as Covid restrictions were slashed.
Heathrow’s chief executive John Holland-Kaye warned demand remains ‘very volatile’ as fears of a fourth wave of Covid, skyrocketing global oil prices and the conflict in Ukraine all continue to affect consumer confidence
Passenger numbers are expected to return to around 65% of pre-pandemic levels, after Heathrow announced since it had lost £4billion since March 2020. Pictured: Queues at Heathrow Airport on Saturday, April 23
Some 9.7 million passengers travelled through Heathrow Airport in the first three months of the year, which was in line with forecasts.
January and February were ‘much weaker than expected’ due to restrictions brought in to tackle the Omicron strain of Covid-19, according to Heathrow.
But passenger numbers increased in March after the ‘unexpectedly quick removal’ of all UK travel restrictions on March 18.
Mr Holland-Kaye told BBC R4’s Today programme that the airport was seeing a ‘wave of pent-up demand’ since Covid travel restrictions were axed on March 18.
But he believes the outlook for air travel remains ‘quite uncertain’ after the summer with existing pressures on the wider economy expected to bite down hard on the pockets on millions of British families.
Heathrow’s passenger numbers increased in March after the ‘unexpectedly quick removal’ of all UK travel restrictions on March 18
Passengers are set to be hit with increasing ticket prices despite two years of travel chaos since the onset of the pandemic
‘We’ve got the risk of 4th wave, higher oil prices, lower GDP growth and of course war in Ukraine that puts a lot of passengers off coming to Europe and particularly into the UK’, he explained.
‘That’s why we’ve got a bit of an uncertain outlook but we are doing everything we can to make sure passengers travelling through Heathrow over the summer have a fantastic experience they can expect.’
It comes as passengers are set to be hit with increasing ticket prices despite two years of travel chaos since the onset of the pandemic.
Heathrow increased landing fees by a third in January, and has plans to increase by up to 90 per cent over the next five years, reports the Telegraph.
Mr Holland-Kaye defended any future rise in costs as an ‘affordable’ plan that will help passengers with a ‘smooth and predictable journey through the airport’.
Holidaymakers could be left thousands of pounds out of pocket because insurers will not cover claims for the current travel chaos.
Since the disruption is now a ‘known event’ from media reports, travel insurers may refuse to reimburse customers for money wasted on unused accommodation, car hire and excursions. Others are relying on Covid-related exclusions in the small print to deny claims.
Martyn James, from complaints website Resolver, said: ‘Just because we know Covid is prevalent does not mean we can treat flight disruption as a given. Insurers cannot absolve themselves of responsibility.’
Airlines including British Airways and EasyJet have already slashed thousands of flights in the previous month, with industry insiders fearing the worst is yet to come.
BA boss Sean Doyle originally told staff in an internal message that flights would be cancelled until the end of next month, partly due to staff shortages.
There are fears that other carriers could also be hit with issues after easyJet cancelled hundreds of flights over Easter – with BA axing at least 101 short haul flights to or from Heathrow on Tuesday.
The transport chaos over Easter saw flights to destinations into Europe and the US cancelled by BA and easyJet as they were hit by Covid absences, lack of staff and a surge in demand for travel as restrictions were lifted.
MPs have since called for an ‘automatic refund’ for holidaymakers whose travel plans are affected by cancellations or last-minute alterations.
A report by the Commons transport committee called for the industry regulator to be handed new powers to fine airlines which fail to pay compensation quickly for cancelled or delayed flights.
Heathrow said more than 95% of passengers got through security within five minutes during the Easter getaway.
It added that it is ‘planning to continue delivering a good service over a busy summer’ by reopening Terminal 4 by July and recruiting more than 1,000 new security officers.
A Heathrow spokesman told MailOnline: ‘Demand remains very volatile and we expect these passenger numbers to drop off significantly after the summer.
‘We are already seeing airlines cancelling services into the autumn and the realities of higher fuel costs, lower GDP growth, the war in Ukraine and the ongoing pandemic will drag on demand.
‘We are still in a pandemic, with many markets still closed, nearly 80% with testing and vaccination requirements, and another variant of concern could see the return of UK travel restrictions.’
Heathrow has said it plans to recruit 1,000 new security staff and will reopen Terminal 4, which has sat dormant during the pandemic.
The airport will also ‘assisting’ airlines, ground handlers and retailers fill more than 12,000 vacancies across its own services.
Chief executive John Holland-Kaye said: ‘I want to thank colleagues who worked very hard to ensure the start of 2022 has gone to plan, and I want to reassure passengers that we’re redoubling our efforts to ensure this summer’s journeys go safely and smoothly.’
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