Heathrow boss blames delays on passengers with too many bags but getaway ‘going well’

26 July 2022, 07:39 | Updated: 26 July 2022, 09:06

By Sophie Barnett

The boss of Heathrow Airport has blamed huge delays on passengers taking too much hand luggage and liquids through security but insisted the summer getaway is "going well".

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Passengers travelling from the west London airport have faced travel chaos in recent weeks with long queues in security, luggage going missing and hundreds of cancellations.

John Holland-Kaye, the airport's chief executive, has blamed delays at the site on passengers "travelling with more than they normally would" and too few ground handlers to meet rising demand.

Speaking to LBC's Nick Ferrari at Breakfast about long queues at Terminal 3, Mr Holland-Kaye insisted "every single lane is open".

"Every single lane is open and that's because we have hired as many people working in security as we had before the pandemic," he explained.

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"A lot of them are new so they are taking time to settle in, and of course a lot of passengers are travelling with more than they would normally take. They have got more bags, and more liquids in their bags so that takes a little bit longer, but we are getting people on their way."

Pressed on why people are travelling with more liquids in their bags, Mr Holland-Kaye admitted: "A lot of people are put off from checking in all of their makeup for example because they are worried about whether their bag will make the journey with them.

"You'll know that the DfT regulations are that people can only travel with one, one litre transparent bag, and people tend not to think of makeup as being prohibited from travel, so there's a lot of education that we need to do with people."

He urged people to "bear with us" as the airport puts in provisions to ensure holidaymakers can get away this summer, and praised the "terrific" work of staff who are working "flat out".

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The bags at Heathrow Airport.
The bags at Heathrow Airport. Picture: Stuart Dempster

He blamed the disruption on ground handler companies not hiring enough staff and said the airport has been raising concerns about their workforce numbers for the last nine months.

He said there's "just not enough" ground handlers to meet passenger demand, and insisted that as airlines bring on more staff they will be able to increase the cap on the number of departing passengers.

"Ground handlers are most of the people you will see at the airport," he explained.

"They are the check-in colleagues, they load your bags on and off the planes, and they also connect the plane to the airbridge when you come in and marshall the planes, push them backwards and forwards, so they are the backbone of what you think of as being the airport, but they are employed by the airlines.

"They did a very good job through until the beginning of June, but the demand was just getting too much for them so we had to take action."

Earlier this month the airport introduced a cap of 100,000 passengers a day – a cut of around 4,000 – until September 11, with airlines told to stop selling tickets for the summer.

Mr Holland-Kaye said this was necessary to stop service dropping to "unacceptable" levels.

"Our colleagues are going above and beyond to get as many passengers away as possible, but we cannot put them at risk for their own safety and wellbeing," he said.

His comments come after it was revealed the airport's adjusted loss before tax during the first six months of the year was £321 million, down from £787 million during the same period in 2021.

Heathrow attributed the improvement to a spike in passenger numbers, from 3.9 million to 26.1 million.

Fees paid by airlines also rose, but this was "offset by increased costs as we invested ahead of demand", according to the airport.

Meanwhile, budget airline easyJet has revealed quarterly losses after it took a £133 million hit from recent airport disruption.

The group reported a group headline loss before tax of £114 million for the three months to June 30, blaming "widespread operational challenges" and flight cancellations due to staff shortages at airports.

The result marked an improvement on the £318 million loss seen a year ago, but comes despite its passenger numbers jumping more than seven fold to 22 million in the quarter.

But easyJet boss Johan Lundgren insisted its summer operations had now "normalised" and were "much improved" in July after recent moves by airports to demand a cut in flight programmes.

He also hit out at the UK's traffic light travel system which he said had "no meaningful impact" on halting the spread of Covid.

Mr Lundgren told Nick Ferrari at Breakfast the system was introduced with "no scientific measures or evidence that they would be working".

He added: "Hopefully that's a thing of the past now."

MPs claimed nearly half a billion pounds was spent implementing the coronavirus traffic light system for international travel but the Government "does not know" whether it worked.

Heathrow's boss, Mr Holland-Kaye said that despite "scars" caused by the Covid pandemic and recent chaos at the site, the airport's summer getaway has "started well".

"The summer getaway has started well at Heathrow, thanks to early planning and keeping demand in line with airline ground handler capacity," Mr Holland-Kaye said.

"I'm proud of the hard work everyone at Heathrow is doing which has helped millions of people get away already, and will help millions more travel on their well-earned summer breaks in the weeks ahead.

"We can't ignore that Covid has left the aviation sector deeply scarred, and the next few years will need investment to rebuild capacity, with a focus on safety, consumer service, resilience and efficiency."