The government and aviation regulator have intervened in the row over a planned capacity cap at Heathrow after Emirates openly defied the airport’s order to trim flights.
The Department for Transport and the CAA have written a joint letter to Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye asking why “Heathrow has determined that 100,000 departing passengers per day provides a safe and resilient airport with a positive passenger experience”.
The letter requests Heathrow reply by midday today (Friday) to give an assurance that the airport has enough staff for security screening and to assist disabled passengers.
Signed by Rannia Leontaridi, director of the aviation, maritime and security office within the DfT, and CAA chief executive Richard Moriarty, they also call on Heathrow to “develop a credible and resilient capacity recovery plan for the next six months” and to prepare for contingency events such as “weather shocks”.
The joint letter said: “Heathrow and the airlines that use your airport must be assured, and be able to assure us, that you have in place a plan that can deliver a positive passenger experience through allowing as many people as possible to travel, without too much disruption and queues, and in particular to avoid significant numbers of short notice and on the day cancellations.”
“The government and the CAA are concerned that current resourcing plans are not delivering this outcome with a positive passenger experience in the coming weeks, particularly as we lead in. to the start of the school summer holidays in England towards the end of July.”
The letter added: “Decisions about service reductions are the responsibility of of your airport operating community. We would expect these to be taken in a way that is equitable and takes into account that some carriers have already reduced their schedules substantially.”
Dubai carrier Emirates yesterday accused Heathrow of failing to prepare the post-pandemic surge in air travel with reports today suggesting Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines have also refused to cancel flights.
Virgin Atlantic chief customer and operating officer Corneel Koster also questioned the airport’s actions.
He told the PA news agency: “We’re quite concerned that what they [Heathrow] are doing is not targeted enough.
“It should be focused on ‘what are the bottlenecks, how are we mitigating those temporarily, and how are we really getting beyond this?’.
“We expect them to show us the plan of how we’re going to get back to 2019 capacity. We haven’t seen enough of a plan.”
A British Airways spokesperson described the cap as “incredibly disappointing” and that it has already taken “responsible action to reduce our summer schedule”.
BA had already cut 10,300 short haul flights until the end of August and told travel agents it will cancel “a small number” of additional flights following Heathrow’s cap on summer passenger numbers.
Which? Travel editor Guy Hobbs said: “Passengers don’t need a public shouting match between airlines and airports. They need clarity and certainty for their holiday plans. With the big summer getaway just a week away, individuals and families with trips booked are caught in the crossfire.
“The unacceptable chaos at the UK’s biggest airport shows why passenger rights must be strengthened.”
Heathrow said in response to the Emirates stance: “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.”
Slot co-ordinator ACL, referring to Heathrow this summer, said: “Under the UK slot regulation, there is no provision that allows the co-ordinator to remove an allocated slot from an air carrier once it has been allocated.
“As such any cancellations requested will be considered as voluntary. ACL makes no guarantee that such cancellation will be granted alleviation from the utilisation requirement and will look at each situation on a case by case basis after the event.”
Separately, the CAA and DfT wrote to the travel sector urging that passengers be supported amid air travel disruption.
The joint letter said: “We ask you to review the information you are providing to passengers and ensure that you proactively engage with passengers.
“To this end, we ask that you contact them in advance of their travel, such as in their booking email, to outline what they can expect from their travel this summer.
“Providing this information in advance of travel is in addition to, not instead of, the obligation to provide information about passengers’ rights in the event of delays and cancellations when they occur.
“Additionally, we ask you to ensure you have appropriate resources in place at airports and call centres to support passengers and provide any assistance required.
“If we do see breaches in meeting the legal obligations the CAA stands ready to take forward appropriate action, and if we consider that passengers are not being appropriately treated, further legislative reforms will be considered.”