Virgin Atlantic to Resist Christmas Capacity Caps at Heathrow - BLOOMBERG
NOVEMBER 03, 2022
BY Bloomberg News
(Bloomberg) -- Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Shai Weiss pledged to resist any move to cap capacity at Heathrow airport in the lead up to Christmas after the hub said curbs may be needed due to staffing shortages.
The airline controlled by billionaire Richard Branson intends to fly a full winter program and called on London’s biggest airport to use the 55 days remaining before Christmas to ensure no restrictions are needed after a turbulent summer.
“Disrupting passengers now is completely unacceptable,” Weiss said in an interview Wednesday. “It’s just not possible. What are we going to tell people, you’re not going to see your family over Christmas? You’re not going to go on the vacation for which you’ve saved for two or three years? So we’ll be flying our full schedule.”
The Virgin Atlantic CEO said he had expected Heathrow to confirm capacity curbs were a thing of the past after a ceiling of 100,000 departing passengers a day was scrapped at the end of the summer schedule, which was marred by lengthy delays due to a lack of workers. Instead, Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye last week doubled down on warnings of further limits on the busiest days ahead of the festive season.
The lifting of the mandatory cap from Oct. 30 means any further attempt by Heathrow to reduce flying should come in the form of a request rather than an order, Weiss said.
The period between the US Thanksgiving holiday and New Year is a vital one in a North Atlantic market where Virgin gets 70% of its business. The airline has so far managed a 99.3% completion rate this year despite the disruption at Heathrow by shuffling flights to avoid cancellations.
Prior to the pandemic, Heathrow averaged 130,000 departing passengers a day, according to Weiss, and even with blanket curbs in place the hub regained its crown of Europe’s busiest airport over the summer.
At the same time as restricting flight volumes, Heathrow is looking to raise the fees it charges airlines -- an aim Virgin says is behind efforts to emphasize both staffing issues and a slow return to pre-Covid traffic levels. A decision on prices is likely later this year or early in 2023, Weiss said.
A Heathrow spokesman said that no decisions have yet been made about the Christmas period, adding that issues around resourcing represent a sector-wide challenge and the main workforce it directly employees, security staff in departure halls, is back to pre-pandemic levels.
The airport said on Oct. 26 it was working with airlines “to agree a highly targeted mechanism” that will align supply and demand on a small number of peak days in the lead up to Christmas.
It now sees a full-year tally of as many as 62 million passengers, even after the disrupted summer, having initially forecast 45 million.
(Updates with Heathrow comment in ninth paragraph)