MIAMI – The number of passengers at Britain’s largest airport slumped by 73% in 2020 to the lowest annual total since 1975. Due to the travel restrictions induced by the COVID-19 pandemic, last year, only 22.1 million travelers, 59 million fewer than in 2019, went through London Heathrow Airport (LHR).

According to a report by the Guardian, December numbers were higher than November, rising to 1.1 million as Britain came out of lockdown briefly, but ended 83% below the previous December as the new COVID-19 strain resulted in further border closures and several flights stopped.

Furthermore, cargo volumes were down 28.2% for the year, with dedicated cargo flights helping to counteract lost capacity in commercial aircraft belly holds.

Although LHR reduced its expenses by cutting wages, mothballing two terminals and running for much of the year on one runway, it said the commercial aviation was “fighting for survival” and called for further government action to revive travel and support the struggling industry.

Photo: Heathrow Airport

Comments from London Heathrow

London Heathrow’s CEO John Holland-Kaye, said, “The past year has been incredibly challenging for aviation. While we support tightening border controls temporarily by introducing pre-departure testing for international arrivals, as well as quarantine, this is not sustainable.”

He called on the government to “show leadership” and work to create a common international standard for pre-departure testing. Holland-Kaye added that the aviation industry was “the cornerstone of the UK economy but is fighting for survival. We need a roadmap out of this lockdown, and a full waiver of business rates.”

London Heathrow aerial view. Photo: Heathrow airport

New Lockdown after a Second Virus Strain Found

Hopes raised by the approval of COVID-19 vaccines for a return to flying in early 2021 were largely dampened by the virus variant discovered in the UK and the resulting renewed travel restrictions. Airlines such as easyJet (EC) are now looking to reduce their timetables to domestic links and a few international flights.

Others simply stopped flying altogether, as countries worldwide banned flights to/from the UK in December.

The UK government declared last week that it would also require a recent negative COVID-19 test for all incoming passengers, a change that aviation authorities said they acknowledged as appropriate but increased the need for financial assistance for UK’s commercial aviation sector to survive. What a way to start the new year.

Featured image: London Heathrow Airport Terminal 5. Photo: Pascall Watson.