While there had been high hopes for United Kingdom air travel this summer, Heathrow Airport numbers are down still nearly down 90% compared with 2019. As a result, the CEO of what is usually the busiest airport in Europe is urging ministers to further open up the skies.

Heathrow Aircraft
In total, 957,000 passengers passed through Heathrow in June compared to over 7.2 million in 2019. Heathrow Airport

Greater expectations

Euro 2020 came to an end last night, and several key matches, including the final, were held in London. When the news that the capital of the UK would be playing a key role in the tournament first arrived, it was expected that the city would become a central hub that would see flocks of tourists boosting the economy.

However, while London saw increased visitors from around the country, the number of those flying in was capped. Even if someone had a ticket to a match, they would have been subject to entry policies and meet testing and quarantine requirements.

Even UK-based travelers were keeping a close eye on the Global Travel Taskforce’s plans for the safe return of air travel. In the end, the “restart” of travel in May was somewhat of an anticlimax, with not many nations on the “green” list for safer travel. Moreover, feasible travel could only be to a few of the destinations due to restrictions on the other side. The government even continued to make this list smaller, prompting frustration from airlines.

Heathrow Airport Plane
Heathrow would have been hoping for greater advancements. Photo: Getty Images

More to be done

Now, the UK airports’ European counterparts are catching up and even soaring ahead across the board. Heathrow emphasizes that both Schiphol and Frankfurt have surpassed their 2019 cargo volumes, growing by 14% and 9%, respectively. Yet, this activity at Heathrow is still down 16%. There is also trouble when it comes to flights across the pond. The restriction of transatlantic flights is costing the UK at least £23 million (~$33 million). Notably, the number of travelers flying in from the US is down 80%, while the figure is just down 40% for the European Union.

Earlier this month, the government announced that from July 19th, double-vaccinated UK residents will no longer need to quarantine when returning from amber list countries. This move would undoubtedly contribute to more passengers flying in the coming weeks. However, in order to truly boost not only aviation but wider industries, Heathrow airport shares that fully vaccinated residents in more countries should also be allowed to bypass quarantine.

Virgin Atlantic Airways Airbus A350
Family vacations are still a struggle as under-18s generally can’t get vaccinated in the UK. Photo: Getty Images

Needing to work together

The airport notes that residents in strong economic partner nations such as the United States and the European Union should be given greater access. Notably, airlines such as British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are working with Heathrow to show that fully vaccination status can be carried out at check-in. So, there should be fewer concerns from the government about ensuring that passengers are certified.

“While it’s fantastic news that some double-vaccinated passengers will no longer need to quarantine from amber countries, Ministers need to extend this policy to US and EU nationals if they want to kickstart the economic recovery,” Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye shares.

“These changes will be critical for exporters who are losing out to EU rivals and families who have been separated from loved ones. We have all the tools to safely restart international travel, and now is the time for Global Britain to take off!”

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British Airways Boeing 777 landing at Heathrow
Private testing requirements have been forcing hefty passenger expenditures. Photo: Getty Images

Severe downturn

The activity shift can be seen when looking at the difference in activity at European airports over the last two years. In 2019, Heathrow was the busiest airport in Europe and 7th busiest in the world, with over 80 million passengers passing through during the year. However, the airport’s position dropped to 22 in 2020, with just over 22 million passengers. Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport had overtaken Heathrow in the rankings.

This transformation was even before the United Kingdom introduced the stringent travel restrictions at the turn of 2021. Last year, it was still somewhat feasible to fly in from many countries. The introduction of stricter testing requirements and even hotel quarantine from “red list” countries later on, rocked the market even more.

While the industry is still taking time to open up, Heathrow will be hoping that the easing doesn’t get reversed. Nevertheless, governmental decisions need to be made for the aviation and travel industry to genuinely progress.

What are your thoughts about the ongoing challenges that Heathrow Airport faces? What do you think needs to be done to boost safe travel? Let us know what you think of the situation in the comment section.

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