Emirates on Thursday rejected demands from London’s Heathrow Airport to slash passenger capacity over summer, setting the stage for a wider stand-off between airlines and one of the world’s busiest airports as the sector struggles to cope with surging passenger demand.
In an excoriating statement, Emirates said it would not comply with Heathrow’s “unreasonable and unacceptable” demand to cut passenger numbers and will operate as scheduled until further notice.
On Tuesday, Heathrow told airlines to stop selling tickets for the summer in order to keep passenger numbers to 100,000 a day.
The company said the airport gave it just 36 hours to comply with the cuts, dictated specific flights that should remove passengers and threatened legal action for non-compliance.
Emirates said the order shows a “blatant disregard” for customers by attempting to force it to deny seats to “tens of thousands of travelers.”
The airline said Heathrow’s passenger cap—which the airport said is the maximum number it can confidently manage—appeared to have been “plucked from thin air.”
Emirates said that Heathrow now faces an “airmageddon” due to its own inaction and “incompetence” and accused the airport of shifting the burden onto travelers and airlines.
What To Watch For
Rebellion among other airlines and repercussions. While airlines and airports do not always see eye to eye, Emirates’ statement is a clear and scathing rebuke of Heathrow’s handling of rebounding passenger numbers after two years of pandemic restrictions. Emirates claims it has been threatened with legal action if it does not comply and states it has no intention of doing so, effectively throwing down the gauntlet for a legal challenge in the near future. It’s possible the move could embolden other airlines operating out of Heathrow, many of which are also unhappy with the airport’s handling of passengers in recent months. A Virgin Atlantic spokesperson told ITV News it was concerned the airport is not doing enough to get back to pre-pandemic capacity and hasn’t shown airlines much of a plan for doing so.
4,000. That’s how many daily departing passengers over the 100,000 cap were scheduled to fly out of Heathrow at the time the order was given. Some 1,500 of these seats had been sold at the time of the order. The cap is set to be in place between July 12 and September 11, Heathrow said.
Many airlines have already made deep cuts at Heathrow and other busy airports in order to rein in chaotic scenes and massive disruption. Many airports and airlines laid off staff during the pandemic and are struggling to recruit and train staff in time to meet rebounding demand. As more restrictions are lifted and passenger numbers surge, airports have been engulfed in chaos amid flight delays, cancellations, massive queues and a litany of luggage issues. Airlines and airports tend to point to one another—and both point to the government—as responsible for the chaos, which is also worsened though poor weather and staff shortages due to Covid-19, a problem particularly prevalent among airlines ditching masking requirements.