Heathrow passenger numbers fall to lowest level since 1960s

Heathrow’s passenger numbers have fallen to the lowest level since the 1960s, the airport has announced.

Just 461,000 people travelled through the west London airport in February.

That represents a 92% decline compared with February 2020 and is the lowest monthly total since 1966.

The airport blamed the decrease on the ban on non-essential travel, quarantine rules and the requirement for pre-departure and post-arrival coronavirus testing.

It said it is working with Boris Johnson’s taskforce to reopen international leisure travel from May 17, but warned that the “biggest single concern is the ability of Border Force to be able to cope with additional passenger numbers”.

Recent queue times in immigration halls have been “unacceptable”, it added.

Heathrow also noted that its cargo volumes are 30% down on normal, while rival airports in Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt are moving “pre-Covid cargo tonnage levels”.

Chief executive John Holland-Kaye said: “Aviation has always led the UK economy out of recession, and we will do so again.

“The PM’s Global Travel Taskforce can lead the way on reopening international travel and trade safely – but ministers must get a grip of Border Force’s performance so that visitors get a warm welcome to Britain, not a six-hour queue.”

His comments come a day after the airport’s chief operating officer Emma Gilthorpe told the Commons Home Affairs Committee that passengers are facing queues of up to six hours because of the time coronavirus checks are taking to carry out.

She said it was “not uncommon to see queues of three hours and we have had queues extending out to nearly six hours on occasion”.

She added: “The extra layers that have been introduced are crippling the resourcing capability that Border Force has in place.”