The airline industry has been hampered by a perfect storm of challenges over recent weeks, from labor shortages and supply disruptions to high fuel prices.
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Dubai, United Arab Emirates – Emirates is using harsh words for London Heathrow, the UK’s largest aviation hub and currently plagued by travel chaos.
Earlier this week, Heathrow Airport told airlines to stop selling summer tickets, after imposing a cap of 100,000 passengers per day leaving the airport in order to cut long queues, cancellations and delayed baggage claim.
Emirates, Dubai’s leading airline and one of the world’s largest long-haul airlines, is refusing to comply, calling Heathrow’s decision “unacceptable” and accusing its management of “blatant disregard for customers”.
She appears determined to continue her scheduled flights, despite what she said was a threat of legal action by Heathrow Airport.
“It is very unfortunate that LHR last night gave us 36 hours to comply with the capacity cut, a number that appears to have been picked up out of the blue,” Emirates said in a statement issued on Thursday.
“Their communications not only dictated which specific flights we should get rid of paying passengers, but also threatened legal action for non-compliance. This is totally unreasonable and unacceptable, and we reject these demands.”
International passengers walk through the arrivals area of Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport on November 26, 2021 in London, England.
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Emirates said ground services and catering staff at London Heathrow Airport, which is operated by its subsidiary dnata, were “fully prepared and able to handle our flights”. Therefore, she said, “the crux of the problem lies in the centralized services and systems that fall to the airport operator.”
Emirates said the London-Dubai route is one of Emirates’ busiest, and those flights – six flights a day since October 2021 – have had consistently high bookings for the past 10 months, so Heathrow should have been prepared for that.
“Now, with consumers blatantly disregarding, they want to force Emirates to deny seats to tens of thousands of travelers who have paid for, and booked for the coming months, their long-awaited vacation package or flights to see their loved ones,” Emirates read the data.
“And this, during the super peak period with the upcoming holidays in the UK, and at a time when many people are desperate to travel after two years of pandemic restrictions.”
The Emirates airline added that 70% of its customers flying from Heathrow “are going beyond Dubai to see their loved ones in distant destinations, and it will be impossible to find them on new flights in a short time”.
“Until further notice, Emirates Airlines plans to operate as scheduled to and from LHR Airport,” she added.
In a statement, a Heathrow spokesperson said the airline network “continues to struggle with Covid-related challenges” and that a key issue is “airlines’ ground handling teams that currently only have up to 70% of capacity to serve passenger demand”, which It says it has recovered to nearly 85% of pre-pandemic levels.
“For months, we have asked airlines to help come up with a plan to solve resource challenges, but no clear plans were imminent and with each passing day the problem was getting worse,” the statement added.
“We had no choice but to make the difficult decision to impose a capacity cap designed to give passengers a better and more reliable flight and to keep everyone working at the airport safe.”
Bags were seen unassembled at Heathrow for baggage reclaim. The UK’s largest airport has asked airlines to stop selling summer tickets.
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The spokesperson noted that the 100,000-person limit for departing passengers is still well above the 64,000-person limit imposed at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, which in 2021 was ranked the world’s busiest airport by passenger traffic.
Heathrow averages 219,458 departing and arriving passengers per day, split evenly between the two, according to the airport’s website. Dubai is the second most popular destination to leave after New York.
“It would be disappointing if any airline, rather than working together, would want to put profits on a safe and reliable passenger flight,” a Heathrow airport statement said.
Continuing travel chaos
Major aviation hubs and airlines are under stress over what industry analysts say has failed to plan and prepare for a return in travel demand, two years after the Covid-19 pandemic led to a tidal wave of layoffs.
Travelers have faced chaos at some of Europe’s largest airports, with long lines, lost baggage, and flight cancellations and delays. Partly due to labor shortages caused by the pandemic, layoffs have put pressure on airports and airlines facing a surge in summer travelers eager to travel.
American travelers have also dealt with a rise in cancellations and delays, as staff shortages have exacerbated routine problems such as thunderstorms.
Aviation industry executives have defended airport and airline operators, saying the system is “rusty” after two years of reduced activity and that it will take some time for operations to start and run smoothly again.
But this has done little to allay the frustration of customers and airlines losing money and flights.
“LHR has chosen not to act, not to plan or invest,” the Emirates statement said, using the facility’s airport code. “Now faced with the situation of ‘airmageddon’ due to their incompetence and inaction, they are paying the entire burden of costs – from costs and scrambling to sort through the mess – to airlines and travelers.”
“London Heathrow shareholders should scrutinize the decisions of the LHR management team,” she added.