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Heathrow passenger numbers plunge 73% in 2020 amid wider gloom for airlines

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Lucy Harley-McKeown
·2-min read
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A UK border sign welcomes passengers on arrival at Heathrow airport in west London on December 31, 2020. - Brexit becomes a reality at 2300GMT on December 31 as Britain leaves Europe's customs union and single market, ending nearly half a century of often turbulent ties with its closest neighbours. (Photo by Ben FATHERS / AFP) (Photo by BEN FATHERS/AFP via Getty Images)
The approval of the first vaccines in November was perceived to be a turning point for the industry, but the complication of new, more transmittable strains of the virus has lead to further groundings. Photo: BEN FATHERS/AFP via Getty Images

Britain’s busiest airport said on Monday that it saw passenger numbers slump 73% during 2020, as COVID-19 restrictions all but shut down the travel industry.

For December alone, passenger numbers at Heathrow plummeted 83% as fear about the new strain of COVID-19 meant countries shut their borders to the UK. Alongside this, millions of people were forced to cancel Christmas travel.

The approval of the first vaccines in November was perceived to be a turning point for the industry, but the complication of new, more transmittable strains of the virus has lead to further groundings.

At one point following the news more than 50 countries had closed their borders to the UK for fear of spreading it.

The airport also said that its annual cargo volumes fell 28% as fewer passenger planes meant there was less space available for goods.

The beleaguered airline sector has been among the worst hit industries by the COVID-19 pandemic, as travel was all but halted last March due to the coronavirus.

Figures from November show the International Air Transport Association (IATA) expects a net loss of $118.5bn (£87.6bn) for the industry in 2020. Airlines are expected to lose another $38.7bn in 2021.

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Heathrow has seen the sharp end of this, and was knocked from the top spot of Europe’s largest airport, overtaken on passenger numbers by Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport for the first time in October, with Amsterdam Schiphol and Frankfurt “close behind.”

At the time, the company significantly revised down its 2021 forecasts as the coronavirus pandemic and restrictions continue to hit air travel, predicting 37.1 million passengers next year.

It had forecast 62.8 million in June, a sharp decline on 2019 levels but still a significant recovery compared to the 22.6 million journeys now expected this year.

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