Heathrow orders last-minute cancellations affecting around 10,000 passengers

Baggage reclaim at Heathrow Terminal 3. Credit: PA

Heathrow Airport ordered the cancellation of dozens of flights at short notice on Monday, affecting around 10,000 passengers.

Sixty-one flights were axed as the airport did not believe it could have handled the expected number of passengers.

Airlines have been asked not to rebook affected travellers on to alternative flights departing on Monday. Baggage system failures at Terminal 3 over the weekend resulted in hundreds of bags not being put on to flights.

A Heathrow spokeswoman said: “We are expecting higher passenger numbers in Terminals 3 and 5 today than the airport currently has capacity to serve, and so to maintain a safe operation we have asked some airlines in Terminals 3 and 5 to remove a combined total of 61 flights from the schedule.

“We apologise for the impact to travel plans and we are working closely with airlines to get affected passengers rebooked on to other flights.

“While Heathrow is ramping up resource and will have as many security officers this summer as we had pre-pandemic, airspace constraints across Europe and a lack of airline ground-handling staff can pose a risk to the smooth running of operations.

“As a result, we will take action where needed to ensure passengers receive the service level they deserve.”

Affected passengers are not entitled to compensation from airlines as the reason for the cancellation is classified as being outside of their control. The measure caused Virgin Atlantic to cancel two arrivals and one departure on Monday.

Terminal 5, Heathrow

A spokeswoman for the airline said: “Following significant security delays and baggage system failures this weekend, under its conditions of use, Heathrow Airport has introduced last-minute flight capacity restrictions to all airlines in Terminals 3 on Monday 11 July, limiting the number of flights that can operate.

“Unfortunately, Heathrow’s mandated capacity reduction means that we have had to cancel three Virgin Atlantic flights due to operate.

“Our teams are working hard to ensure customers can complete their journey as quickly as possible, with the option to rebook on a later date or request a refund."

Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said: “We have already seen times recently when demand exceeds the capacity of the airport, airlines and ground handlers.

“We will review the schedule changes that airlines have submitted in response to the Government’s requirement to minimise disruption for passengers this summer and will ask them to take further action if necessary.

“We want everyone who is travelling through Heathrow to be confident that they will have a safe and reliable journey.”

In recent weeks the airport has seen 'chaos', with staff shortages thought to be partly responsible. Last week it asked airlines to cancel some flights as it could not handle them all.

The biggest operator at the airport, British Airways, cancelled hundreds more summer flights this month after previous cuts failed to alleviate disruption.

The airline said in a statement at the time that it has “regrettably” become necessary to further reduce its operations.

In May, British Airways announced that it would cancel 10% of flights between April and October in an attempt to avoid having to axe flights on the day of departure.

The number of passengers who travelled through Heathrow during the first half of the year was 26 million, which is more than six times higher than the same period in 2021.

Mr Holland-Kaye said the airport experienced “exponential growth” last month, with nearly six million passengers.

In terms of passenger numbers, Heathrow has recorded “the equivalent of 40 years of growth in just four months”, he added.

“I am very proud of the way that our team is rising to the challenge of growth, and giving excellent service to the vast majority of passengers.”

Low cost European carrier Wizz Air has also said it will cut its peak summer flight programme due to the chaos at airports.

Wizz Air announced it was leaving the airport in June. Credit: PA

The Hungarian airline, which runs services out of Gatwick and Luton airports, said it would trim its capacity by another 5% as part of efforts to avoid flight cancellations and delays.

Wizz Air said: “To be able to avoid cancellations and secure a more punctual operation to our customers, we have further improved the agility and resilience of our network including adjusting schedules where we have seen a higher occurrence of issues.

"In total for the peak summer period we expect to reduce utilisation a further 5% versus the plan outlined at the full year results to reduce the impact of ongoing external disruptions.”

Despite this, Wizz Air said it was set for a boost in demand over the summer and is forecasting a “material” operating profit in its July to September quarter.

This comes after it reported an operating loss of 285 million euros (£241 million) in its first quarter due to rising fuel costs and a strengthening US dollar.

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