BA extends ban on short-haul bookings as travel chaos continues - THE TELEGRAPH
British Airways has stopped short-haul bookings from Heathrow for another week, amid warnings they may be halted for the rest of the summer.
The carrier warned on Monday that it would stop taking new bookings for domestic and western European flights until August 8. On Tuesday this was extended, blocking new bookings on flights before August 16.
Long-haul routes could be disrupted next, insiders warned, as Heathrow Airport's cap on passenger numbers to 100,000 a day forces airlines to withhold tickets and fly planes with thousands of empty seats.
BA said the block on new short-haul bookings would allow it to comply with Heathrow’s passenger cap that had been “imposed” on airlines.
It is understood that the airline is keeping passenger numbers under review on an ongoing basis and long-haul routes could also be subject to a reduction in tickets.
A source said the airline also needed to keep seats free on some flights to have capacity to deal with other cancellations and unexpected disruption.
The halt on ticket sales prompted a jump in ticket prices over the next fortnight as the supply of short-haul fares fell.
Holidaymakers looking for a last-minute getaway faced surges in fares, with the average price from Heathrow to Europe on some routes having already jumped, according to data from Google Flights.
Passengers looking to pay less were urged to depart from a different airport to avoid soaring fares.
Guy Hobbs, editor of Which? Travel, said: “With further ticket sale suspensions possible, people should consider booking as early as possible to avoid last-minute disappointment and inflated fares. They should also consider alternative airports and airlines where possible.
“Airports and airlines need to be held to account for the unacceptable disruption travellers are currently experiencing, and the government must act to ensure the Civil Aviation Authority has the power to hit operators with substantial fines in instances where they flout the rules.”
There are fears the disruption will last for the rest of the summer, hitting those hoping for a last-minute cheap getaway over the August Bank Holiday weekend.
Rob Burgess, editor of frequent flyer website headforpoint.com, said: “Since the Heathrow capacity cap will exist until at least 11th September - and we believe it will be pushed out further - it seems likely that BA will have to keep capacity caps in place until the end of the school holidays, given the upcoming Bank Holiday at the end of August. “I therefore expect the block on sales to keep rolling over, until at least Bank Holiday Monday 29th August as BA is already over its daily passenger cap on many dates based on existing ticket sales.”
Mr Burgess said the changes would not impact those who had already booked tickets, aside from those who may be looking to arrange a last-minute connecting flight. He added: “The real losers are people expecting to get a cheap last minute August Bank Holiday break - it’s not happening - or those who may need to fly at short notice for personal reasons.”
John Strickland, an airlines analyst, however said the impact on fares would only be “marginal”.
Analysts suggested that the decision would cost British Airways some of its share in the short-haul market because rivals such as Jet2 and Ryanair, which largely operate out of other airports, would not have to cancel flights.
However, according to Alexander Paterson, an analyst at Peel Hunt, the financial hit to BA will be limited as increased fares will "largely mitigate" the fall in capacity. Short-haul is the least profitable kind of flight, he said.
“All the same, it is quite something when BA has to suspend sales and cancel flights because Heathrow is not resourced to be able to handle even 104,000 passengers per day in peak summer,” he added.
Heathrow said earlier this summer that it would cap passenger numbers at 100,000 per day until September 11, forcing airlines to cancel 1,000 flights. The airport said a lack of ground crew and overbooking by airlines was leading to huge delays and last minute cancellations.
Airlines reacted with fury. Gulf carrier Emirates accused Heathrow of chosing “not to plan, not to invest” in capacity, while Ryanair also attacked planning at the airport. Airport workers union Unite, meanwhile, accused Heathrow on Tuesday of having “cut staffing to the bone”. Heathrow, however, has hit back at what it called “bizarre” criticism, arguing airlines are responsible for providing ground staff.
John Grant, an airlines analyst at OAG, said British Airways would fly around 20,000 empty seats per day as a result of the decision to halt sales.
Mr Grant said: “Take a low-ball average fare for this time of year of £100 each way and it's a £12.5m hit to revenues at least, probably more since there will be passengers who would have booked long haul flights off the back of a connecting short-haul service and they have now gone as well.”
A British Airways spokesman said: “We took pre-emptive action to reduce our schedule this summer to give customers certainty about their travel plans and to build more resilience into our operation given the ongoing challenges facing the entire aviation industry.
“When Heathrow introduced its passenger cap, we took a small number of additional flights from our schedule and to continue to comply with the cap, we've been taking responsible action by limiting sales or all the available fares on some of our Heathrow services to ensure more seats are available to rebook customers.
"We'll continue to manage bookings to be within the Heathrow imposed cap so we can get our customers away as planned this summer.”
A Heathrow spokesman said: “Acting in the best interests of passengers, we introduced a cap on departing numbers at Heathrow in order to provide better, more reliable journeys this summer. We are pleased to see action from British Airways, acting responsibly and also putting the passenger first.”