John Holland-Kaye has just lost 92 per cent of his passengers. The chief executive of Heathrow airport revealed on Tuesday that the UK’s main gateway handled only 489,000 travellers during April 2021, representing barely 16,000 arrivals and departures per day – compared with a daily average of 222,000 in 2019.
Had the Heathrow boss found time to read the latest blog from OAG, he might have felt even more despondent about April. His domain in west London no longer handles the most frequent flights among UK airports.
That honour has gone west.
The 31-mile link between the Isles of Scilly and Land’s End isn’t the sort of route that you would expect to be topping a table.
But the airline schedule experts at OAG calculate that in April 2021 this route was far more popular than any other involving a UK airport – with an average of 12 flights per day.
In second place, another surprise: the 26-mile hop between two of the Channel Islands: Alderney and Guernsey. That aeronautical highway saw a mighty nine flights per day.
How does Heathrow compare? Well, only one of its routes gets even halfway: the five-per-day link to and from George Best Belfast City airport.
That takes third place in OAG’s April honours – with fourth place shared between five Heathrow routes.
On each of these the frequency was four sectors per day – corresponding to two round trips. Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester and New York were the beneficiaries.
All these links from Heathrow, apart from Manchester, were in the top 10 two years ago. If there is any consolation to be had for Mr Holland-Kaye, at least they are still there. But they have been overtaken by routes that were, respectively, 31st and 82nd in the pecking order. And just below the Heathrow sextet: Stansted to City of Derry, previously 204th, and Liverpool-Isle of Man, at 59th.
From Monday 17 May, international leisure travel is no longer banned, and by the end of summer the table should look rather more familiar. But meanwhile it is difficult to reconcile the warm words from the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, and reality.
“We want a summer in which, with the help of vaccines and testing, we can reunite family and friends,” Mr Shapps said at the Downing Street briefing on Friday.
“Travelling to places we love. We want to start looking outward again. Whilst Covid has isolated us, travel reunites us. Even if video calls have kept us all connected during the lockdown, there’s simply no substitute for human contact.
“Travel is of course also crucial for rebuilding our economy.”
But then the transport secretary announced a “green list” of laughable brevity. The dozen destinations on it divide neatly into four countries that won’t touch us with a bargepole (Australia, New Zealand, Brunei and Singapore); four Atlantic outposts that are effectively inaccessible (Faroe Islands, Falkland Islands, South Georgia and St Helena); and four potential destinations for holidays and business (Portugal, Gibraltar, Israel and Iceland).
And then he warned against travel to “amber” countries, even for people perfectly willing and able to self-isolate when they return from the likes of Spain, Italy and Greece.
Aviation insiders are increasingly convinced that the UK government is paying only lip service to restarting aviation.
Meanwhile, if you want to join the crowds at Land’s End, the 20-minute journey will cost you £93. One way.