Dubai-based airline Emirates has hit out at London’s Heathrow airport after it announced plans to introduce a limit of 100,000 departing passengers a day through the busy summer months.
In a statement, the airline said it had been given 36 hours to comply with the capacity cut and that the new limit is “a figure that appears to be plucked from thin air”. It added that the new rules were “entirely unreasonable and unacceptable, and we reject these demands”.
Flights between Dubai and Heathrow connect two of the ten busiest airports in the world in terms of international traffic.
However, London’s main airport has been suffering from significant disruption this summer, with long queues, numerous flight cancellations, missing baggage and frequent delays – a situation that Emirates described as “airmageddon”.
Emirates operates one of the world’s largest long-haul fleets and, since October, has had six daily flights in and out of Heathrow using the Airbus A380 super-jumbo.
“With blatant disregard for consumers, they [Heathrow Airport] wish to force Emirates to deny seats to tens of thousands of travellers who have paid for, and booked months ahead, their long-awaited package holidays or trips to see their loved ones,” the airline said.
The airline said it faced an impossible challenge in trying to rebook passengers on to other services, given current levels of demand and the fact that 70% of its passengers travelling from Heathrow are connecting in Dubai to onward flights. “It will be impossible to find them new onward connections at short notice,” it said.
In a spiky statement, the airline added that “Moving some of our passenger operations to other UK airports at such short notice is also not realistic. Ensuring ground readiness to handle and turnaround a widebody long-haul aircraft with 500 passengers onboard is not as simple as finding a parking spot at a mall.”
Emirates said it plans to operate as scheduled to and from Heathrow, suggesting it plans to ignore the capacity cap that the airport has announced.
It is not clear what action the airport could take against the airline to enforce its capacity limits, but a spokesperson said “Airlines are required to comply with the process to manage passenger demand at the airport and we are engaging proactively with them.”
The key issue for Heathrow is a shortage of staff on the ground to work on check-in desks, load and unload bags and turn around aircraft
In an open letter to passengers on July 12, Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said it had started recruiting for the post-pandemic recovery in air travel in November and, by the end of July, should have as many people working in security as it had pre-pandemic. “New colleagues are learning fast but are not yet up to full speed,” said Holland-Kaye
However, he admitted that the airport was “significantly under resourced” in certain areas, including ground handling.
The airport spokesperson added “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.”
Heathrow is not the only airport to suffer problems this summer. There have been delays and flight cancellations across the continent, including at Dublin Airport, and Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport has also introduced a cap on the number of passengers.