By Simon Calder, The Independent
In an unprecedented move, British Airways has taken all short-haul flights from its main base, London Heathrow, off sale until 9 August at the earliest.
BA, which operates more than half the flights from London Heathrow airport, said: “We’ve decided to take responsible action”.
While intercontinental flights are still on offer, imminent domestic and European departures are blocked to new sales.
These are the key questions and answers.
Why has BA done this: has it simply run out of seats?
No. There are still empty seats on many of the airline’s Heathrow departures.
This decision, which will cost the airline a fortune in lost revenue, has been made for two reasons:
- to keep space available in the event of disruption, allowing passengers to be rebooked when flights are cancelled or connections missed because of delays.
- because Heathrow has imposed a strict limit of 100,000 departing passengers a day – and British Airways, by far the biggest airline there, must comply.
BA has already cancelled tens of thousands of Heathrow flights because it doesn’t have enough resources to operate them, but it appears that the cuts were not be enough to comply with the Heathrow cap.
Why is the Heathrow cap in place?
Three weeks ago the UK’s biggest airport said there were “some critical functions in the airport which are still significantly under resourced, in particular ground handlers”. These are the companies that airlines use to provide check-in staff, load and unload bags and manage the arrival and departures of aircraft.
Earlier in the summer, says Heathrow, when departing passenger numbers regularly exceeded 100,000 a day, there were unacceptable “queue times, delays for passengers requiring assistance, bags not travelling with passengers or arriving late, low punctuality and last-minute cancellations”.
Cut the number of departing passengers, believes the Heathrow management, and you reduce the risk of everything unravelling. So a limit of 100,000 has been imposed between now and 11 September.
A spokesperson for Heathrow said: “Acting in the best interests of passengers, we introduced a cap on departing numbers at Heathrow in order to provide better, more reliable journeys this summer.
“We are pleased to see action from British Airways, acting responsibly and also putting the passenger first.”
Don’t airlines usually make hay while the sun shines?
They certainly do. Carriers have accumulated huge debts during the Covid-19 pandemic. They are desperate to pay it down, and the summer of 2022 should provide that opportunity.