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Heathrow apology on disruption is followed by call for more action from consumer group

·3-min read
Heathrow has warned it will ask airlines to cancel more flights this summer if it does not believe previous schedule reductions will sufficiently reduce disruption (Adam Kent/PA) (PA Media)
Heathrow has warned it will ask airlines to cancel more flights this summer if it does not believe previous schedule reductions will sufficiently reduce disruption (Adam Kent/PA) (PA Media)

An apology from Heathrow  to passengers caught up in the recent chaos at London’s main airport -- issued alongside figures revealing an unprecedented rebound in demand for travel --  has left a leading consumer rights group calling for more to be done for air travellers.

Jo Rhodes, a travel expert at Which? called the prospect of further disruption to summer travel “hugely concerning”, adding that it “suggests measures taken so far have not been enough to tackle the chaos”. Which? has already reported British Airways and EasyJet to regulators for what it called “potential customer law breaches.”

“We will be watching closely to see if airlines fulfil their legal obligations when it comes to informing passengers about their rights to compensation and rerouting, including with rival carriers,” Rhodes added.

Heathrow reported the equivalent of 40 years of growth in passenger numbers over the last four months, taking the total number of travellers for the first six months of the year to 25 million, with almost 6 million people using the airport in June.

London’s biggest airport also warned of more potential cancellations over the summer, saying that revised schedules designed to minimise disruption may have to be looked at again, even as staffing numbers head toward pre-Covid levels. Heathrow itself was forthright in acknowledging the impact of the disruption.

“There have been periods in recent weeks, where service levels have not been acceptable, with long queue times, delays for passengers with reduced mobility, bags not travelling with passengers or arriving late, and we want to apologise to any passengers who have been affected by this,” it said in a trading update.

The problems have occurred as airports across the UK have struggled to re-establish service levels and employee numbers after the shutdowns and restrictions of Covid times. In June, Heathrow asked airlines using Terminals 2 and 3 to cancel 10% of flights due to technical problems with baggage handling infrastructure.

“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,” Heathrow said, adding that it had also reopened Terminal 4 to provide more space for passengers.

It also pledged to “assess” schedule changes at airlines, which have opened the way for cancellations, with carriers allowed to drop their runway slots without penalty in a government-mandated effort to approve overall efficiency.

Wizz Air, the budget airline with a UK base in Gatwick, highlighted the potential for more cuts this summer by reducing the number of seats on sale by 5%.

John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow’s chief executive, said: “We will review the schedule changes that airlines have submitted in response to the government’s requirement to minimise disruption for passengers this summer and will ask them to take further action if necessary.

“We want everyone who is travelling through Heathrow to be confident that they will have a safe and reliable journey.”

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