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Emirates refuses Heathrow’s demand to cut flights — how are other airlines reacting?

This week’s decision from Heathrow Airport (LHR) to cap the number of passengers allowed to pass through its gates this summer has sent shockwaves through the aviation industry. In order to limit passenger footfall to 100,000 people per day, the airport asked airlines to stop selling tickets; according to the airport, if carriers don’t stop …



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The aviation sector has been rocked by Heathrow Airport’s (LHR) decision to set a limit on the number of travelers who can pass through its gates this summer.

According to the airport, if carriers don’t stop selling tickets, travelers may experience more last-minute cancellations in the weeks to come. The airport urged airlines to cease selling tickets in order to limit passenger footfall to 100,000 people per day.

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Emirates Airlines today defied Heathrow’s call to limit passengers by issuing a strong statement to reassure customers that it will not alter its timetable or cancel flights.

According to a statement from the airline, “LHR chose not to act, not to plan, and not to invest.” “Now that they are in a “airmageddon” position as a result of their inaction and lack of competence, they are shifting the entire burden — including the costs and the rush to clean up the mess — to airlines and travelers.”

According to the statement, “Emirates plans to operate as scheduled to and from LHR until further notice.”

How on earth could the airline deny the request? The devil is in the details with complicated legal procedures, as is typical.


Related: Will You Be Visiting Europe This Summer? Here are some predictions.

In This Article

What does Heathrow’s passenger limit mean?

Executives at Heathrow decided to set a daily passenger limit of 100,000 until September 11 in order to avoid being overwhelmed by the summer holiday crush.


That is 4,000 fewer people per day than Heathrow anticipates, thus the change could theoretically have an impact on up to a quarter of a million travelers’ travel plans if excess reservations are canceled.

Related: Heathrow caps passenger numbers and urges airlines to halt selling tickets for the summer

According to Heathrow, airlines have already exceeded the 100,000 cap for that time period by an average of 1,500 tickets every day. Airlines may be forced to cancel or rearrange flights and seats even if they stop all sales today since there will still be an excess of flights.

Who makes the decision which flights get canceled?


The decision is delegated to an impartial “slot coordinator” to prevent a dispute between airlines over which flights should be canceled on days when bookings exceed the limit.

In this instance, Airport Coordination Ltd., the largest slot coordinator in the world, will be responsible.

In order to “ensure optimal utilization of capacity and greater operational performance,” ACL collaborates with 72 airports throughout the world. More than 3.8 million flights are coordinated by it annually.

According to a representative for ACL, “The precise method of determining the reduction is presently being assessed and will be notified to airlines in due time.”


Will other U.K. airports restrict passenger numbers like Heathrow has done?

Its choice is governed by something known as Local Rule A. During COVID-19, the ACL used this legal framework to assist in determining which airlines should cancel which flights.

To comply with Heathrow’s request, the ACL will first determine how many seats need to be canceled daily before advising each airline on how many seats or flights they should cancel.

There is a problem with this though.


The problem with Heathrow’s proposed passenger cap

In other words, airlines are not required to adhere.

In other words, airlines might just decide not to cooperate.

Related: Could this help US travelers? The UK government is making an effort to resolve the travel situation.


Failure to comply “will result in a potential Health and Safety concern for which the Airport Authority will need to consider appropriate action,” states Local Rule A.

When TPG questioned Heathrow officials about what steps the airport will take against airlines who disobey, they only responded that the ACL and airlines would have to come to an agreement.

Will airlines follow suit and halt operations?

It is still unclear how the decision would be received across all industries, but it has undoubtedly raised some eyebrows.


See our display A, Emirates. The airline attacked the airport, saying, “LHR last evening given us 36 hours to comply with capacity cuts, of a figure that appeared to be snatched from thin air.” “Their messages not only specified which planes we should reject paying passengers from, but they also threatened legal action if we didn’t comply. We reject these demands because they are wholly absurd and inappropriate.

The statement goes on to say that shifting operations to other airports in the UK at short notice is “not practicable,” and it mentions historical passenger volumes that have passed through Heathrow.

Other aviation insiders saw Heathrow’s action as a cunning attempt to raise passenger rates and increase revenues, an allegation that Heathrow categorically denies.

The airport is allegedly “seeking to maximize the profits that they gain from the airport at the expense of airlines,” according to former British Airways CEO Willie Walsh.


Related: After lengthy wait times, European airports and airlines look for solutions

Airlines have believed for some time that [Heathrow management] is abusing the system and attempting to persuade the CAA [Civil Aviation Authority] to ignore reduced passenger estimates and raise the average passenger price in favor of Heathrow, according to Walsh.

When Heathrow asked airlines to cease selling tickets, the current head of airline watchdog IATA responded, “To tell airlines to stop selling—what a stupid thing for an airport to say to an airline.” Heathrow called Walsh’s statements “ill-informed.”

An airport official said: “Aviation is under enormous pressure as demand increases — at Heathrow we’ve faced 40 years of expansion in just four months. What we need is collaborative working and investment in services to safeguard customers, not misinformed comments from retiring airline leaders.”


What other airlines, outside Emirates, are they responding to?

TPG contacted the biggest partner airlines at Heathrow to find out if they are following the airport’s advise to cease ticket sales and if they have any plans to abide by any potential cancellation requests.

With its statement that it “recognize[s] the problems Heathrow confronts serving clients who are looking forward to traveling throughout the summer,” Virgin Atlantic adopted a friendly tone. “It’s vital that all players come together to ensure customer experiences out of Heathrow are as easy and seamless as possible,” the statement continued.

The British airline, however, also hinted that it would not stop selling tickets in response to Heathrow’s request, indicating a reluctance to postpone flights over the summer.


Related: Be aware that these dates could cause travel in Europe to be interrupted.

Virgin Atlantic “stands poised to deliver its complete schedule this summer,” the spokeswoman added, noting that the airline has a flying completion percentage of over 99 percent. “However, as long as the proposed action does not disproportionately affect home carriers at the airport, we support proactive efforts being done by Heathrow to avoid disruption. A thorough study demonstrating the best course of action to improve the situation and keep customers moving should serve as the foundation for any action.

Only stating that it is “working with Heathrow Airport to determine how the passenger caps may effect American’s operations,” American Airlines maintained its distance.

A representative added, “We’ll work with our partners to minimize any potential harm to our consumers and their summer travel plans.”


According to Lufthansa, no flights out of the airport had their ticket sales or limitations halted.

“At this time, there are no restrictions or sales bans in place. As is well known, Lufthansa has already canceled a sizable number of flights for the summer, the airline said in a statement to TPG, seemingly taking a dig at competitors who had before declined to preemptively cancel flights despite major worries about their operating capacity. Thus, Lufthansa “has significantly improved the situation at airports, particularly London Heathrow.”

Related: 6 practical methods to utilize if your flight is delayed or canceled

This particular remark might be interpreted as a subtle jab at British Airways, which has faced criticism for, up until recently, planning a full flight roster despite having trouble keeping to its schedule due to a staffing deficit at its main Heathrow hub.


Since May, the airline has reduced a small number of its scheduled flights, several of which were abruptly canceled. Britain’s main airline announced the cancellation of more than 10,000 flights until the end of October in response to the U.K. government’s announcement of a “slot amnesty” to allow carriers to change schedules without incurring penalties.

In response to TPG’s request for comment regarding Heathrow’s request to halt ticket sales, British Airways did not immediately answer.

To sum up

It would be interesting to watch if airlines comply with Heathrow in order to prevent additional airport mayhem; some airlines, like Emirates and possibly Lufthansa, seem stubborn.


In their public statements, the airlines we spoke to either remained vague or suggested they had no plans to stop ticket sales.

If Heathrow decides to push the cancellations, which would probably happen at the last minute, this might be awful news for passengers.

More than 1,500 tickets have been sold than Heathrow can handle each day. There are 61 days left before the ban is relaxed, which indicates that at least 91,500 people may have their flights canceled. That number could easily rise to more than 200,000 passengers if airlines ignore Heathrow’s request to stop sales.

In other words, it seems probable that there will be more cancellations in the upcoming months, regardless of who makes the final decision. The number? It is still uncertain.


Related: The Top 10 Tricks for Finding Cheap Flights

Jordan Waller contributed more information.

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