At least 600,000 passengers canceled travel plans from Heathrow Airport in December due to the Covid-19 Omicron variant and the uncertainty caused by the changing travel restrictions in the UK.
In 2021 overall, Heathrow welcomed only 19.4 million passengers, which was less than one quarter of 2019 levels and below even 2020 numbers. This has caused significant doubt around the speed at which demand will recover. IATA forecasts have suggested that passenger numbers will not reach pre-pandemic levels until 2025, provided that travel restrictions are removed at both ends of a route and passengers have confidence they will not change rapidly.
Therefore, Heathrow has urged the UK government to remove all testing now for fully vaccinated passengers. It has also asked for a more predictable playbook for any future variants of concern that limits additional measures only to passengers from high-risk destinations and allows quarantine at home instead of in a hotel. The airport highlighted the uncertainty created for the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in setting a new five-year regulatory settlement and the risk of returning to the “Heathrow hassle” days of the early 2000s, which would undermine the UK’s global trading ambitions.
John Holland-Kaye, CEO of Heathrow, said, “There are currently travel restrictions, such as testing, on all Heathrow routes – the aviation industry will only fully recover when these are all lifted and there is no risk that they will be reimposed at short notice, a situation which is likely to be years away. While this creates enormous uncertainty for the CAA in setting a new five-year regulatory settlement, it means the regulator must focus on an outcome that improves service, incentivizes growth and maintains affordable private financing.”