Stock - British Airways and Emirates
Emirates has resumed flights to London Stansted in a bid to compensate for the outbound passenger limits set at London Heathrow. By October, the Dubai carrier will have 110 weekly flights to the UK. Image Credit: Bloomberg

Dubai: Even with the daily limits on outbound passengers at London Heathrow, the UK-UAE route is back to being among the world’s busiest. Airlines deployed 227,450 seats between Dubai and London Heathrow in August, making it the seventh busiest airline route. In contrast, it did not even make it to the aviation data firm OAG’s Top 10 list in July.

Clearly, summer breaks had a lot to do with the return to form for the sector. On Wednesday, data from Dubai International Airport for the first six months show London was the top destination for travellers passing through during the period. It would only have gotten busier by August.

Amid staffing shortages and massive delays, Heathrow introduced temporary capacity limits last month to improve passenger journeys during the summer. This has now been extended all the way to October 29.

This probably means more expensive tickets for local travellers, especially if booking at the last minute.

- Sean Mendis, Aviation Consultant

However, industry sources say Heathrow’s decision may be a bit redundant with summer demand already showing signs of waning. “The reality is we are past the heaviest days of the summer travel peak in the UK, so daily volumes have begun to decrease anyway,” said Sean Mendis, an aviation consultant. “Furthermore, many airlines have already trimmed schedules at Heathrow voluntarily due to their own internal challenges, reducing the overall potential throughput there.”

Emirates airline originally rejected Heathrow's demand for airlines to make capacity cuts at short notice, with the carrier saying the airport's demand was "unreasonable and unacceptable’. A day later, the carrier agreed to cap sales on its flights out of Heathrow until mid-August.

“Demand remains strong though and with the UAE being a major hub for connecting passengers to points East, passengers displaced from other airlines' cancelled flights are likely to gravitate towards UAE hub carriers,” said Mendis. “This probably means more expensive tickets for local travellers, especially if booking at the last minute."

A flight from Dubai to London costs between Dh3,000-Dh4,000, compared to the usual Dh2,000-Dh2,500. Meanwhile, fares from London to Dubai have eased to around Dh2,400 – it had touched Dh7,000 immediately after the capacity curbs were put into place.

New route to London

Due to the cuts, Emirates temporarily ramped up its services to Gatwick, London’s second largest airport, and resumed flights to London Stansted. Emirates now has nine daily flights to London, including six daily to Heathrow and a double daily flight to Gatwick.

By October, the airline plans to operate 110 weekly flights to UK, including six times daily to London Heathrow, daily services to London Stansted, double daily A380 services to Gatwick, three times daily to Manchester, including a double daily A380 service, double daily service to Birmingham, five weekly flights to Newcastle, and a daily service to Glasgow.

Heathrow keeps cuts

On Monday, Heathrow confirmed it will extend the existing limits on the airport’s capacity through to October 29, the end of the summer season. “Our primary concern is ensuring we give our passengers a reliable service when they travel,” said Ross Baker, Heathrow’s Chief Commercial Officer. “That’s why we introduced temporary capacity limits in July which have already improved journeys during the summer getaway.

"We want to remove the cap as soon as possible, 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."

The cuts will not have a major impact on airline operations as the peak summer travel period is already over. “The caps in place at Heathrow are actually in line with the historical projected demand for the months of September and October, so their impact will be less felt than the caps introduced at short notice for July and August,” said Mendis.