LHR reports Omicron-hit December

COVID-19 continues to pose significant challenges for the travel industry, with Heathrow welcoming only 19.4 million passengers in 2021, below even 2020 levels.

At least 600,000 passengers cancelled travel plans from Heathrow in December due to Omicron and the uncertainty caused by swiftly imposed government travel restrictions, the airport said.

There is significant doubt over the speed at which demand will recover, according to Heathrow. IATA forecasts suggest passenger numbers will not reach pre-pandemic levels until 2025, provided travel restrictions are removed at both ends of a route and passengers have confidence they will not return rapidly.

The London hub said in a statement, “We are urging the UK government to remove all testing now for fully vaccinated passengers and to adopt a playbook for any future Variants of Concern that is more predictable, limits additional measures only to passengers from high-risk destinations and allows quarantine at home instead of in a hotel.”

The airport stressed that the focus should be on improving passenger service, aligning incentives for airlines and airports to work together to rebuild passenger demand and maintaining affordable private financing in uncertain times.

Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye 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 [Civil Aviation Authority] in setting a new five-year regulatory settlement, it means the regulator must focus on an outcome that improves service, incentivises growth and maintains affordable private financing.”