Heathrow airport has said at least 600,000 passengers cancelled their travel plans from the airport in December because of Omicron, warning aviation would take years to recover from the pandemic.
Only 19.4 million passengers passed through the airport in 2021 – less than a quarter of 2019 levels and below even 2020, the year when the Covid-19 pandemic started in March.
Heathrow said passengers cancelled their travel plans last month because of the Omicron variant and the uncertainty caused by swiftly imposed government travel restrictions. The UK’s busiest airport again urged the government to remove all testing requirements for fully vaccinated passengers and to adopt a playbook for any future variants of concern that is more predictable.
The Heathrow chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, said: “There are currently travel restrictions, such as testing, on all Heathrow routes – the aviation industry will only fully recover when these are all lifted and there is no risk that they will be reimposed at short notice, a situation which is likely to be years away.”
He said there was significant doubt over the speed at which demand would recover. The International Air Transport Association, the industry body, forecasts that passenger numbers will not reach pre-pandemic levels until 2025, on the assumption travel restrictions are removed at both ends of a route and travellers have confidence the curbs will not return rapidly.
Travel firms reported a surge in bookings last week after the government relaxed travel restrictions, ditching the requirement for a pre-departure test for UK arrivals who will not have to self-isolate until they receive the result from the day two test, which has been changed from a PCR test to a cheaper lateral flow test. EasyJet and Tui said the biggest jump was in bookings to the Canary Islands.
Heathrow also called for help from the regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority, which has approved an interim rise in landing charges from £22 to £30.19 a passenger. The airport had called for higher charges of up to £43 to help recoup losses caused by the pandemic. The levy is likely to be passed directly on to travellers.