Heathrow airport extends passenger cap to October amid travel chaos

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LONDON — One of Europe’s busiest airports has extended its cap on passengers into late October, as a summer of travel disruptions and staff shortages drags on.

London’s Heathrow Airport said it would allow no more than 100,000 people to fly out each day, extending for longer than initially planned a restriction that it said eased the chaos plaguing summer travel in Europe.

The travel hub imposed the daily limit in July during peak travel season, as photos circulated of lost luggage piling up on terminal floors and lines snaking around security barriers for hours. Heathrow cited shortages in staff struggling with surging traffic after countries emerged from coronavirus lockdowns that hit the aviation industry.

The London airport said Monday that its temporary cap led to fewer last-minute cancellations and “shorter wait times for bags.”

Just as summer started and the United States lifted a coronavirus testing requirement, pent-up demand for travel collided with pandemic layoffs that had battered workers. The result was thousands of flight cancellations and labor strikes across Europe.

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German pilots, French airport workers and Italian air traffic controllers have all walked out in recent weeks, squeezed by labor shortages and soaring inflation. Union activists in Paris called for better wages and emergency hiring to restore pre-pandemic staffing levels.

Travelers in Europe added a record heat wave — which threatened to melt airport runways in Britain — to their list of 2022 hurdles.

The chaos has filled terminals with stranded passengers, including at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport when Dutch carrier KLM briefly canceled incoming European flights in June. The airport introduced a cap on departures then, which it has now also been extended until October.

“Worldwide aviation traffic continues to inch closer to 2019 levels,” according to FlightAware, which tracks airport traffic and reported “large growth” this week over last year’s flights in Europe and China.

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Some consumer rights groups have faulted the aviation sector for failing to plan for the travel surge.

Heathrow said this week that it has hired 1,300 people in the past six months in an effort to build back to pre-pandemic staffing. In Monday’s announcement, it said passenger limits would remain under review and “could be lifted earlier” if conditions improve, including “a material increase” in resources.

“We want to remove the cap as soon as possible,” said Heathrow Chief Commercial Officer Ross Baker, “but we can only do so when we are confident that everyone operating at the airport has the resources to deliver the service our passengers deserve.”

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