Everyone’s a loser in the latest airport farce – except Ryanair

·3-min read
british airways suspending flight booking travel chaos heathrow - Getty
british airways suspending flight booking travel chaos heathrow - Getty

How on earth can we have come to this – our national airline suspending bookings from Britain’s premier airport? BA’s confirmation last night that it will sell no more tickets on short-haul flights out of Heathrow until August 8 would have been inconceivable only a few months ago. Now it is just the latest extraordinary twist in this summer’s litany of travel chaos.

The suspension is a direct result of Heathrow imposing a daily cap of 100,000 passengers – the most it believes it can cope with under the current circumstances. And it could go on longer. BA didn’t answer my question as to whether the bookings freeze might be extended, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it was – the airport’s cap is in place until September 12.

Last month there was a flurry of recriminations between Heathrow and the airlines it serves, with both Virgin Atlantic and Emirates criticising the airport’s failures. Meanwhile, speaking to Radio Four’s Today programme, Heathrow’s chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, pointed the blame at airlines: “Airports don’t provide ground handling, that’s provided by the airlines themselves. So this is like accusing us of not having enough pilots.”

The rhetoric has now been dialled down, with Heathrow claiming that punctuality and baggage handling services have improved as a result of the cap. BA’s latest statement still lays the blame squarely on the airport, but tries to make a virtue of its decision to stop selling tickets on some flights: “As a result of Heathrow’s request to limit new bookings, we’ve decided to take responsible action and limit the available fares on some Heathrow services to help maximise rebooking options for existing customers, given the restrictions imposed on us and the ongoing challenges facing the entire aviation industry.”

But this is hardly a situation which anyone – neither the travel industry nor we, the passengers – want to be in. Already millions of us have had our travel plans ruined or changed, and many more have been subjected to chaotic queues, long delays and lost luggage. Now – for the next week – we are unable to book a seat on many of BA’s premier services to Europe.

It’s understandable that the travel industry would face challenges in bouncing back from the impact of the pandemic. But the failure of so many airports and airlines to anticipate and manage the huge increase in bookings over the last few months has been lamentable. And it has been thrown into sharp relief by the success of the few which have got it right.

Outstanding among these has been Ryanair. True, it has been helped by the fact that it doesn’t fly from Heathrow, one of the worst affected airports, and one of its biggest bases is Stansted, which has performed well. But it has managed to operate nearly all its services as planned this summer. And as a result, it will be the biggest winner as a result of the latest restrictions. While BA and Heathrow put bookings on hold, Ryanair is open for business.

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