London Heathrow asks airlines to cut flights; Emirates declines

The turnaround of travel has astounded everyone and has caught the service providers including airports and airlines by surprise. Airports, which decided to lay off staff amidst the damp travel sentiment over the past two years, are finding it tough to keep up with the return of travel.  Europe has especially been affected a lot, and we would have all seen the images on social media of how passengers are being held in staging areas outside Schipol to make it inside the airport.

London Heathrow imposes a daily passenger cap

Earlier this week, London Heathrow imposed a daily passenger cap, which is set at 100,000 passengers departing from LHR every day, effective July 12, 2022, and in place for the rest of the summer (till September 11, 2022). Heathrow says that the airport has seen 40 years of passenger growth in just four months.

Heathrow made a statement, explaining that the staff shortage has put significant constraints on the airport. Heathrow Airport has seen the number of daily travellers exceeding 100,000 in recent weeks, and this has caused a drop in service levels that the airport operator no longer finds acceptable. Specifically, Heathrow is experiencing long queue times, delays for passengers requiring assistance, bags not travelling with passengers or arriving late, low punctuality, and last-minute cancellations.

The statement said,

New colleagues are learning fast but are not yet up to full speed. However, there are some critical functions in the airport which are still significantly under-resourced, in particular ground handlers, who are contracted by airlines to provide check-in staff, load and unload bags and turnaround aircraft.

Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said,

We recognise that this will mean some summer journeys will either be moved to another day, another airport or be cancelled and we apologise to those whose travel plans are affected.

Airlines have been asked to stop selling unsold seats on flights departing from Heathrow. Heathrow’s CEO added,

The latest forecasts indicate that even despite the amnesty, daily departing seats over the summer will average 104,000 – giving a daily excess of 4,000 seats. On average only about 1,500 of these 4,000 daily seats have currently been sold to passengers, and so we are asking our airline partners to stop selling summer tickets to limit the impact on passengers

The airport claims that it started recruiting for more staff back in November 2021 and that by the end of July 2022, Heathrow will have as many people working in security as pre-pandemic. However, that might not be enough.

As per Heathrow’s statement, it believes that tickets are already oversold compared to the capacity that the airport can handle, and hence asked the airlines to stop selling more tickets for the next two months with next to no notice at all. In effect, making its problem the problem of the passengers as well as the airlines who have a contract with those passengers to fly them out of London Heathrow.

At least one airline disagrees with Heathrow’s approach

Emirates issued a strongly-worded statement in reaction to what London Heathrow has guided airlines to do. Calling it an “Airmaggadon”, Emirates refers to the issue as being caused due to the incompetence of London Heathrow. The statement reads as such,

It is highly regrettable that LHR last evening gave us 36 hours to comply with capacity cuts, of a figure that appears to be plucked from thin air. Their communications not only dictated the specific flights on which we should throw out paying passengers, but also threatened legal action for non-compliance.

This is entirely unreasonable and unacceptable, and we reject these demands.

Emirates further states,

At London Heathrow airport (LHR), our ground handling and catering – run by dnata, part of the Emirates Group – are fully ready and capable of handling our flights. So the crux of the issue lies with the central services and systems which are the responsibility of the airport operator.

Emirates is a key and steadfast operator at LHR, having reinstated 6 daily A380 flights since October 2021. From our past 10 months of regularly high seat loads, our operational requirements cannot be a surprise to the airport.

Now, with blatant disregard for consumers, they wish to force Emirates to deny seats to tens of thousands of travellers who have paid for, and booked months ahead, their long-awaited package holidays or trips to see their loved ones. And this, during the super peak period with the upcoming UK holidays, and at a time when many people are desperate to travel after 2 years of pandemic restrictions.

Emirates clearly disagrees with the approach that LHR is taking. You can read the full statement, here.

I totally would side up with Emirates here, and hope more airlines take this stance as well. It is one thing to ask airlines to not take further bookings for a flight, especially closer to the date where they can sell tickets at a higher price and deny them revenue. It is another level to ask them to do this at one day’s notice throughout the rest of the summer. A third, to expect them to displace already booked passengers and ask them to move around their plans for what might have been plans made weeks or months ago. And fourth, again to do this at the drop of a hat in a season where they would be already running full. Fifth, how do you decide whose reason for travel is more important than the others.

Regulators are not helping in this case as well. Airline slots, especially at airports such as Heathrow are high in demand and airlines are subject to a use it or lose it rule, where they are going to have to operate flights for at least 80% of the schedule of six months to be able to qualify to keep the slot in the next schedule. As per Paxex.Aero, if airlines decide to let go some flights which haven’t sold as well, it counts against their 80% compliance, because the CAA (UK regulator) is not going to give any exemptions in this case.


If you are scheduled to fly out of Heathrow, you should be extra careful here on. Who knows if you are the passenger who gets to not fly from LHR on the day you are supposed to fly out. Or if you are going to book now, maybe book from another London airport such as LGW instead. Ultimately, Heathrow has put airlines on notice about not selling any more tickets for summer travel departing out of LHR, and this affects passengers and airlines alike.

What do you make of the current mess, that is London Heathrow?

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About Ajay

Ajay Awtaney is the Founder and Editor of Live From A Lounge (LFAL), a pioneering digital platform renowned for publishing news and views about aviation, hotels, passenger experience, loyalty programs, travel trends and frequent travel tips for the Global Indian. He is considered the Indian authority on business travel, luxury travel, frequent flyer miles, loyalty credit cards and travel for Indians around the globe. Ajay is a frequent contributor and commentator on the media as well, including ET Now, BBC, CNBC TV18, NDTV, Conde Nast Traveller and many other outlets.

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  1. They have completely messed up though by firing a load of people through covid, and being surprised that those people went off and got other jobs instead, rather than sitting around twiddling their thumbs waiting to be rehired. There’s a lot they need to do to build capacity in the vetting / screening processes and to improve pay and conditions to make the job attractive relative to other roles available right now. If you can work in a Supermarket that pays a similar rate, is much closer to your house and doesn’t require customers shrieking at you all day why would you choose to work in an Airport? LHR & Manchester Airport are one of the worst places to work in London and Manchester respectfully.

    Also, there is no labour shortage. If they pay them a MARKET salary they would find employees. They are just not willing to pay the rates the market is asking to have employees at the moment.

    Hope Emirates and other airlines sue Heathrow Airport Holdings to bankruptcy. They were pretty happy to take gov bailouts and sack staff.

    Also interestingly Qatar holds 20%, China holds 11.2%, Govt. of Singapore holds 11.2%, Quebec Pension Fund holds 12.62% and UK University pension fund holds 10% of the fund. It could be a proxy war between Qatar and UAE.

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