DALLAS – London Heathrow Airport (LHR) chief executive John Holland-Kaye cautioned that a return to normal travel “may be years away.”

The CEO of the UK’s busiest airport highlighted the industry’s problems and the unpredictability that travelers face.

In 2021, only 19.4 million passengers traveled through LHR, down 12.3% from 2020 at the start of the pandemic. Now, the BBC reports that at least 600,000 passengers scrapped plans to fly from LHR last month as the Omicron strain brought about tougher travel restrictions.

Last year’s number was less than a fourth of the pre-pandemic levels seen in 2019, which was the lowest for the UK hub in 50 years. The LHR chief said he believes that all coronavirus testing for fully vaccinated patients should be discontinued.

Due to concerns about the new variant, all visitors arriving in the UK were forced to do a pre-departure lateral flow test and self-isolate until they had a negative result from a post-arrival PCR test starting in late November.

Last week, the new requirements were relaxed for fully-vaccinated arrivals after travel companies claimed they were ineffectual due to Omicron’s spread in the UK. According to airlines, this action resulted in a surge in bookings.

London Heathrow Airport at night. Photo: London Heathrow Airport Media

Travel Restrictions and Full Industry Recovery

Mr. 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 re-imposed at short notice, a situation which is likely to be years away.”

He warned this creates “enormous uncertainty” for UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), as it prepares to set a five-year cap on LHR’s passenger charges. The CEO added, “The regulator must focus on an outcome that improves service, incentivises growth and maintains affordable private financing.”

The CAA increased the cap on Heathrow’s price per passenger by a third as of January 1, sparking complaints from airlines that the rise was far too high. The aviation authority is expected to announce a long-term cap running from the summer to 2027 in the coming weeks.

Featured image: LHR. Photo: Ferrovial Airports