'Heathrow incompetence will cause 'airmageddon': Emirates rejects airport's passenger cap

14 July 2022, 12:13

Emirates wants to defy Heathrow's instructions on passenger numbers
Emirates wants to defy Heathrow's instructions on passenger numbers. Picture: Getty

By Will Taylor

A top airline has rejected Heathrow's bid to restrict how many passengers fly from the airport.

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Britain's airport chaos showed no signs of abating a war of words broke out between Emirates and the international travel hub, with the former warning the decision would cause "airmageddon".

Heathrow has imposed 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.

But Emirates said in a statement on Thursday that it is "highly regrettable that LHR last evening gave us 36 hours to comply with capacity cuts, of a figure that appears to be plucked from thin air" and said it would continue to operate as normal.

"Their communications not only dictated the specific flights on which we should throw out paying passengers, but also threatened legal action for non-compliance," it said.

"This is entirely unreasonable and unacceptable, and we reject these demands."

The Dubai-based airline said its ground handling and catering teams are ready to handle its flights so "the crux of the issue lies with the central services and systems which are the responsibility of the airport operator".

Heathrow is among the airports to have seen disruption post-pandemic
Heathrow is among the airports to have seen disruption post-pandemic. Picture: Getty

Airport disruption has seen a raft of flights cancelled and hours-long delays and queues across the UK's terminals.

Blame has been laid at the foot of travel and aviation companies for not hiring enough staff, having cut jobs during the pandemic when demand was much lower than normal thanks to restrictions and lockdowns.

John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow's chief executive, said the cap 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.

Emirates said it will continue to operate as normal and added: "LHR chose not to act, not to plan, not to invest. Now faced with an "airmageddon" situation due to their incompetence and non-action, they are pushing the entire burden - of costs and the scramble to sort the mess - to airlines and travellers," Emirates added.

It concluded: "Until further notice, Emirates plans to operate as scheduled to and from LHR."

Read more: Heathrow tells airlines to stop selling tickets for summer travel

Tourists face further headaches with looming industrial action set to cause disruption.

British Airways workers at the west London airport are deciding on strike dates, which could be set during the peak summer holiday period.

Members of the GMB and Unite unions, including check-in staff, have voted in favour of industrial action in a dispute over pay.

Heathrow hit back: "Aviation is a complex network and no-one can operate in isolation. The network continues to suffer from Covid-related challenges.

"While many factors have resulted in the delayed flights, misconnected bags, long waits for arriving bags and last-minute cancellations at Heathrow and airports across Europe in recent weeks, a key issue is airline ground-handling teams which are currently only resourced up to 70% capacity to serve passenger demand which has returned to 80-85% of pre-pandemic levels.

"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.

"We have tried to be as supportive as possible to airlines and our 100,000 cap on daily departing passengers is significantly higher than the 64,000 cap at Schiphol (in Amsterdam).

"It would be disappointing if instead of working together, any airline would want to put profit ahead a safe and reliable passenger journey."