BA is limiting sales of Heathrow short-haul flights for the rest of the summer

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<p><figcaption class=Photo: Steve Parsons/PA

British Airways will limit sales of short-haul flights from Heathrow throughout the summer, with no more tickets for departures before August 15, in a bid to avert further disruption and flight cancellations.

The unprecedented move by BA comes in response to the London airport’s cap on passengers, limiting total numbers to 100,000 per day, after staff shortages led to long queues, flight delays and baggage problems earlier this year.

The airline said it was taking “responsible actions” that would build resilience and that suspending the sale of seats to domestic and European destinations would also allow existing customers to book flights as needed.

BA canceled more than 10,000 summer flights last month but will not remove any further departures from its schedule under the new plans and no existing bookings will be affected.

After August 15, the airline plans to limit sales “dynamically” rather than a blanket ban, but expects to continue to limit available seats for busy days and periods throughout the summer. It said the measures would protect existing bookings and help deal with any disruptions due to other factors, such as adverse weather or air traffic restrictions.

A British Airways spokesperson said: “We took precautionary measures to reduce our schedule this summer to give customers certainty about their travel plans and to build more resilience into our operation, given the ongoing challenges facing the entire aviation industry.

“When Heathrow introduced the passenger cap, we took a small number of extra flights from our schedule. And to continue to meet the cap, we have taken responsible action by limiting sales, or all available fares, on some of our Heathrow services to ensure that more seats are available for customers to rebook.

“We will continue to manage bookings to stay within Heathrow’s imposed limit so we can get our customers off as planned this summer.”

Airlines and airports across the UK and Europe have struggled to cope with the post-pandemic boom in travel, with many still unable to recruit enough staff, particularly in ground services such as check-in and baggage.

Heathrow said it now has the same number of people employed in security as in 2019 and that 80% of passengers will clear security within 20 minutes or less. But Heathrow added that its airlines, which are responsible for employing or contracting ground staff, do not have enough people to manage.

It asked airlines to limit the number of tickets they sell over the summer after it limited the number of passengers passing through the airport to 100,000 per day to limit queues. Another carrier, Emirates, which initially resisted the order, has now agreed to limit sales along with BA.

Despite the cap, an average of more than 100,000 people a day have taken off during the first 10 days of the UK summer holiday, Heathrow said. Over 1 million people flew in the airport’s busiest period for departures since Christmas 2019, with New York, Los Angeles and Dubai the main routes.

Heathrow said the high proportion of occasional leisure travelers unfamiliar with the airport and current documentation requirements was slowing down progress at check-in counters and security. Delays were caused by people ignoring rules banning liquids over 100ml in hand luggage, while airport queues were exacerbated by anxious passengers arriving more than three hours before departure, before check-in had opened.

Chief Operating Officer Emma Gilthorpe said Heathrow was keen to operate without a ceiling as soon as possible, but that would require airlines to have adequate ground handling resources.

She said: “The airport has struggled to cope as passenger volumes have increased beyond the combined capacity of companies across the airport to service them. This has resulted in an unacceptable increase in delays to ground aircraft, baggage not traveling with passengers or was delivered very late to the baggage hall, low departure punctuality and some departures that were canceled after the passengers had boarded.

“The Cup has slightly reduced passenger numbers, which brings them in line with available resources and as a result is already resulting in better, more reliable journeys for passengers.”

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