The Omicron form of the COVID-19 virus caused over 600,000 travelers to cancel their flights from London Heathrow (LHR) in December, according to the airport operator.
The UK’s busiest airport also revealed how the epidemic and ongoing travel restrictions impacted passenger counts in 2021, which were more severe in the UK than in Europe.
Between January and December 2021, 19.39 million passengers passed through LHR, down 12% from 2020 and less than a quarter of the passengers who passed through in 2019.
“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,” Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said in a press release from January 11, 2022.
The speed with which the industry will recover from the COVID-19 epidemic was “significantly doubted,” according to LHR. The airport has urged the UK government to eliminate all testing requirements for fully vaccinated travellers and to establish rules for dealing with future strains like Omicron.
The appearance of the Omicron version in the last weeks of 2021 prompted numerous governments to impose travel restrictions on short notice, causing thousands of people to miss flights and handing a new blow to the aviation industry.
Passenger numbers will not recover pre-pandemic levels until 2025, according to LHR, citing data from industry group IATA, as long as travel restrictions are removed and travelers can be confident that such limits would not be imposed at short notice.
“We are urging the UK government to remove all testing now for fully vaccinated passengers and to adopt a playbook for any future Variants of Concern that is more predictable, limits additional measures only to passengers from high-risk destinations and allows quarantine at home instead of in a hotel,” the airport commented.
LHR was Europe’s fourth busiest airport in terms of aircraft movements in 2019, according to Eurocontrol data. It has lost 59 percent of its traffic as a result of the pandemic, and is now Europe’s sixth busiest airport in terms of airline movements in 2021.
The Asia-Pacific market saw the highest reduction in passengers at LHR in 2021, with 40 percent fewer passengers than in 2020. Passengers from North America were down 14%. Domestic passenger counts in the UK, on the other hand, increased by 21% from 2020.
Cargo was a bright area for LHR, as it was for its airline customers. According to the report, 1.4 million metric tons of cargo flowed through the airport in 2021, up 23% from 2020.
The scenario with altering travel limitations, according to the airport, has generated uncertainty for airport charges for the next five years.
By summer 2022, the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) will have made a judgment on what LHR can charge passengers for the next five years. The CAA has approved an interim charge increase at London Heathrow (LHR) of £30.19 ($41.14), a 37 percent increase over 2020 pricing. Heathrow had requested that the price cap be raised to between £32 and £43 ($43.61-$58.60) per person for 2020, up from £22 ($29.98).
Holland-Kaye said the CAA “must focus on an outcome that improves service, incentivizes growth and maintains affordable private financing.”