British Airways has suspended ticket sales on short-haul flights from Heathrow for at least a week.
BA said the decision was made after Heathrow asked carriers to limit new bookings after the airport introduced a limit of 100,000 departing passengers on 12 July.
Heathrow has blamed a staffing crisis for the unprecedented fare, which will last until at least 11 September.
BA’s move comes just days after schools closed for the summer holidays and will push already rising ticket prices higher.
All ticket sales on BA’s domestic and European routes and via Morocco and Cairo are suspended until 8 August.
On Monday night, aviation experts said it was “very possible” that ticket sales would have to be curtailed for the rest of the summer, including the August bank holiday.
“I’ve never seen anything like it before,” a senior aviation source told The Times. “BA would have hated to have to do this at the peak of the summer season. It completely removes them from the lucrative last-minute market at a crucial time.”
A BA spokesman said by email: “We have decided to take responsible action and limit the available fares on some Heathrow services to help maximize rebooking options for existing customers, given the restrictions placed on us and the ongoing challenges facing the entire aviation industry. “
The British airline has canceled about 13 percent of planned capacity this summer due to a lack of its own staff and the steps imposed by Heathrow.
Airlines and airports across Europe are struggling to cope with demand rebounding sharply after the coronavirus crisis, with the London hub warning last week that the situation could persist into next summer.
The sales cap imposed by BA is similar to measures adopted by Air France-KLM’s Dutch unit in late May as signs of summer travel chaos emerged.
Like Heathrow, Amsterdam’s Schiphol hub along with London’s smaller Gatwick airport also have curbs imposed on departures.
Capacity caps may have reduced the number of passengers, but they have also strengthened prices in a sector where demand was already close to matching supply on many routes.
An economy class seat with hand luggage only from London’s smallest airport, City, to Frankfurt on August 2 was as much as £417 one way, although return fares were significantly cheaper at around £190, according to a search of BA’s website.
A flight to Milan Malpensa from London Gatwick was slightly cheaper at £354.
A source told The Times that BA had artificially inflated prices on some routes to discourage bookings.
“There have been times when London-Edinburgh has been north of £400 one way,” he said. “They did this to deter orders. Even the vast majority of business customers would not pay that.”
Rob Burgess, editor of Head for Points, the frequent flyer website, told The Times: “It is very possible that we will see ticket sales restricted for the rest of the summer – at least until we get past the August weekend.
“Anyone needing to travel from Heathrow during August on a British Airways service and who has not yet booked a ticket should consider booking as soon as possible in case bookings are closed for multiple dates.”