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London’s Heathrow Airport Says It Will Limit Passengers

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LONDON — Heathrow Airport said on Tuesday that it could limit the variety of passengers until mid-September, citing staff shortages which have led to long lines, delays, lost luggage and last-minute flight cancellations.

In an open letter to passengers, Heathrow’s chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, called on airlines to stop selling latest tickets as critical functions within the airport have been significantly constrained.

“We recognize that this can mean some summer journeys will either be moved to a different day, one other airport or be canceled, and we apologize to those whose travel plans are affected,” he said. In recent weeks, there have been periods when service had dropped to a level that was “not acceptable,” he said.

Mr. Holland-Kaye said the airport could handle not more than 100,000 departing passengers every day, barely fewer than the 104,000 he estimated it could be expected to serve on average. He asked airlines to limit the variety of tickets they sold to bring numbers back under 100,000.

When asked how Heathrow would implement the capability limit, a spokeswoman for the airport, Hannah Smith, said this might be overseen by an independent coordinator, Airport Coordination Limited.

The airport coordinator said in a press release that compliance with Heathrow’s request was voluntary, because there was no mechanism in Britain that allowed it to remove allocated runway slots from airlines. The corporate said it could calculate the required reduction in passengers for every airline, and airlines could resolve which flights to cancel or whether to comply with the request in any respect.

Virgin Atlantic, one in all Britain’s largest carriers, said in a press release that it stood able to deliver its full schedule this summer.

“Nonetheless, we support proactive measures being taken by Heathrow to cut back disruption, so long as motion proposed doesn’t disproportionately impact home carriers on the airport,” the airline said. “Motion needs to be based on thorough evaluation showing essentially the most effective measures to enhance the situation and keep customers moving.”

Summer travel in Europe has been marred by chaos at airports as airlines have struggled with staffing shortages amid a surge of passengers desperate to travel after pandemic lockdowns. Last week, the Scandinavian airline SAS filed for bankruptcy protection after its pilots went on strike. There have also been walkouts by airport and airline staff across Europe, amid frustration with long hours and low pay that has not kept up with rising inflation.

Other airports have introduced similar measures. Last month, Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam introduced a capability cap, citing a shortage of security employees and demand for air travel far exceeding expectations, and Gatwick Airport in London also said last month that it would cut back flights for July and August. British Airways said it could operate on a reduced schedule by 11 percent through October.

Mr. Holland-Kaye said that Heathrow had began recruiting in November, in anticipation of high demand for summer travel, but that some key roles were still understaffed, including ground handlers, whom airlines contract to load and unload bags, turn around aircraft and supply check-in services to passengers.

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