Heathrow airport says that the reasons for disruption at the airport this summer is because of a lack of airline ground handling.
In its quarterly trading update, it said that it had been raising its concerns over the lack of handlers for nine months because the number of people employed in ground handling fell sharply over the last two years, as airlines cut costs during the pandemic.
It estimates that airline ground handlers “have no more than 70 per cent of pre-pandemic resource, and there has been no increase in numbers since January.”
The blame game for what is going wrong at airports is likely to continue.
Neil Sorahan, chief financial officer of Ryanair, criticised airports yesterday for not recruiting enough staff to cater for the rebound in travellers, saying they had “had one job to do to”.
Speaking this morning on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Heathrow’s CEO, John Holland-Kaye responded, saying,
“It’s bizarre that they should accuse airports for not hiring enough ground handlers. Airports don’t provide ground handling, that’s provided by the airlines themselves. It’s like accusing airports of not having enough pilots.”
In its trading statement, Heathrow said,
“In the second half of June, as departing passenger numbers regularly exceeded 100,000 a day, we started to see a worrying increase in unacceptable service levels for some passengers; an increase in delays to get planes on to stand, bags not travelling with passengers or being delivered very late to the baggage hall, low departure punctuality and some flights being cancelled after passengers had boarded.
“This showed us that demand had started to exceed the capacity of airline ground handlers and we took swift action to protect consumers by applying a cap on departing passenger numbers, better aligned with their resources.”
Heathrow says that airline ground handler performance “has been much more stable since the cap came into effect, and we have seen a marked improvement in punctuality and baggage performance”.
It also points out that “Heathrow’s cap is 50 per cent higher than Schiphol, which shows how much better the airport and airlines have planned at Heathrow than our competitors. The cap will remain in place until airlines increase their ground handler resource.”
In the statement Heathrow said:
“We started planning nine months ago for the summer peak, and our own resources are on track –All parts of the airport are now fully operational. We have hired 1,300 people in the last 6 months and will have a similar level of security resource by the end of July as pre-pandemic.
“We have additional service colleagues and our entire management team is deployed on ‘Here to Help’ shifts to support passengers in the terminals this summer.”
Heathrow remains loss making with an adjusted loss before tax of £321million.