Heathrow raises passenger numbers forecast amid flight chaos

The UK’s largest airport said it now expects 54.4 million passengers to travel through its terminals in 2022 as demand for foreign holidays rebounds.

Queues at Heathrow airport
Queues at Heathrow airport

Heathrow Airport has hiked its annual passenger forecast once again as demand ramps up for overseas travel.

The UK’s largest airport said it expects 54.4 million passengers to travel through its terminals, up by nearly 9 million on the guidance it gave in December.

This is just over two thirds (67%) of levels seen before the pandemic struck.

But the surge in demand for foreign holidays has seen airports such as Heathrow and Gatwick struggle to cope, with staff shortages leading to flights being cancelled, baggage handling problems and mammoth check-in queues.

Heathrow asked airlines on Monday to cut 10% of flights at two terminals in a move affecting about 5,000 passengers at Terminals 2 and 3 on about 30 flights.

Many holidaymakers have suffered long delays or cancelled flights in recent months, with the chaos affecting the recent half-term getaway over the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee weekend.

The boss of budget airline Ryanair warned travellers earlier this week that flight delays and cancellations will continue “right throughout the summer” as airports suffer amid staff shortages.

Heathrow’s latest forecasts show it is expecting a significant rise in passengers when compared with 2021, when restrictions were in place for much of the year.

An airport spokesperson said: “Following an extremely challenging two years, we have seen a steady traffic increase in 2022.

“20.1 million passengers travelled through Heathrow in the first five months.”

On the recent disruption, the spokesperson added: “While we rebuild capacity from the pandemic, resources remain tight, in line with other airports in the UK and Europe.

“We are working closely with airlines and ground handlers to match supply and demand.”

The passenger forecast upgrade marks the second in as many months for Heathrow.

Airlines have previously accused Heathrow of playing down the recovery of demand for flights as part of efforts to convince the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to allow it to raise fees further.

The regulator is in the final stages of setting a five-year cap on the airport’s charges.

Heathrow expects to remain loss-making through the year and does not forecast paying dividends to shareholders in 2022.

But it said in Thursday’s update that, given the higher passenger forecast, underlying earnings are expected to rise 257% to £1.37 billion in 2022, on revenues that are set to double to £2.6 billion.

It forecast that higher energy prices will send operating costs soaring by almost 50% to £1.2 billion this year.

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