Dubai-based Emirates has rejected demands by London's Heathrow Airport (LHR) to cut capacity, saying it is “entirely unreasonable and unacceptable”. The airline plans to operate as scheduled to and from LHR until further notice.
On Tuesday, Britain's busiest airport capped the number of departing passengers at 100,000 a day and told airlines to stop selling tickets over the next two months in the face of baggage delays and long queues as it struggles to cope with a surge in travel.
“It is … highly regrettable that LHR last evening gave us 36 hours to comply with capacity cuts, of a figure that appears to be plucked from thin air. Their communications not only dictated the specific flights on which we should throw out paying passengers, but also threatened legal action for non-compliance,” the airline said in a statement.
The carrier’s ground handling and catering — run by dnata — “are fully ready and capable of handling our flights”.
“So the crux of the issue lies with the central services and systems which are the responsibility of the airport operator,” Emirates said.
The airline is a “key and steadfast operator” at LHR, having reinstated six daily A380 flights since October 2021. “From our past 10 months of regularly high seat loads, our operational requirements cannot be a surprise to the airport."
“Now, with blatant disregard for consumers, they wish to force Emirates to deny seats to tens of thousands of travellers who have paid for, and booked months ahead, their long-awaited package holidays or trips to see their loved ones. And this, during the super peak period with the upcoming UK holidays, and at a time when many people are desperate to travel after two years of pandemic restrictions,” the airline added.
Re-booking the sheer numbers of potentially impacted passengers is “impossible with all flights running full for the next weeks”, including at other London airports and on other airlines.
“Adding to the complexity, 70 per cent of our customers from LHR are headed beyond Dubai to see loved ones in far flung destinations, and it will be impossible to find them new onward connections at short notice.”
Emirates said moving some passenger operations to other UK airports at such short notice is also “not realistic”.
“Ensuring ground readiness to handle and turnaround a widebody long-haul aircraft with 500 passengers onboard is not as simple as finding a parking spot at a mall.”
The airline said the LHR management team are “cavalier” about travellers and their airline customers. “All the signals of a strong travel rebound were there, and for months, Emirates has been publicly vocal about the matter. We planned ahead to get to a state of readiness to serve customers and travel demand, including rehiring and training 1,000 A380 pilots in the past year.
“LHR chose not to act, not to plan, not to invest. Now faced with an “airmageddon” situation due to their incompetence and non-action, they are pushing the entire burden – of costs and the scramble to sort the mess — to airlines and travellers,” it said.
According to the airline, the shareholders of London Heathrow should “scrutinise the decisions of the LHR management team”.
“Given the tremendous value that the aviation community generates for the UK economy and communities, we welcome the action taken by the UK Department for Transport and Civil Aviation Authority to seek information from LHR on their response plans, systems resilience, and to explain the seemingly arbitrary cap of 100,000 daily passengers. Considering LHR handled 80.9 million passengers annually in 2019, or a daily average of 219,000, the cap represents greater than a 50 per cent cut at a time when LHR claims to have 70 per cent of ground handling resources in place.”
Etihad Airways confirmed the first disruption to its flights due to the situation at Heathrow airport on Wednesday.
In a statement to Khaleej Times, the airline said its flight EY26 from London to Abu Dhabi on July 14, 2022, will depart ahead of schedule to avoid the peak congestion period at Terminal 4.
Etihad Airways said it regretted the inconvenience but had to resort to changing the timings "to avoid cancelling the flight”.
UAE residents, who were planning to travel to and from London’s Heathrow, said they are now facing an uncertain summer.
Dubai resident Tara Sillery said one of the biggest issues was a shortage of staff. “From what I have seen, employers are struggling to find people to hire after the pandemic,” she said. “Baggage handlers are walking out because there is so much luggage and they are not paid enough.”
Chandan Sojitra, who travelled to London through Heathrow last week, said it was a nightmare getting through baggage claims. “It took a total of two hours for our bags to arrive,” he said.
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