Heathrow Airport
Both London airports, Heathrow and Gatwick, now have daily limits on passenger numbers flying out. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: It didn’t take long for airfares on the UK-UAE sector to shoot up after London’s Heathrow Airport announced a two-month cap on daily passenger numbers handled. The decision, initially opposed by Dubai’s Emirates, requires carriers to limit departing traveller numbers to 100,000 a day through to September 11.

A flight from London Heathrow to Dubai will cost anywhere between Dh2,500-Dh8,000 right now. The London Gatwick, which placed capacity caps in June, offers no relief to passengers either - an Emirates airline flight from UK’s second largest airport to Dubai on July 20 is seen going for a whopping Dh18,274.

Meanwhile, fares from Dubai to London have stayed normal, averaging below Dh2,000 even with sustained demand.

“All flights are full – you would be lucky to get an Economy class seat on the way back from London,” said Suraj Ramesh, Tours Manager at AlBadie Travel Agency. “People have booked way in advance for these flights.”

The drastic moves by UK airports come as airlines and ground crews struggle to process a surge in travel demand. Due to staff shortages, airlines have had to cancel thousands of flights, causing massive inconvenience to travellers.

Emirates, which operates six daily A380s to London Heathrow, 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, Emirates said it agreed to cap sales of its flights out of Heathrow until mid-August. “Emirates has capped further sales on its flights out of Heathrow until mid-August to assist Heathrow in its resource ramp up, and is working to adjust capacity,” said the airline in a statement.

Emirates’ flights from Heathrow will operate as scheduled and ticketed passengers may travel as booked. Etihad Airways said it would operate all five daily Abu Dhabi-London Heathrow flights at full capacity until at least the end of July.

Passenger confidence

Industry experts believe such high-profile confrontations between aviation stakeholders will dampen passenger confidence. The standoff between the world’s largest long-haul carrier and London Heathrow shows the pure lack of communication between airlines, airports, and other stakeholders over the past two years, said Linus Bauer, Managing Director at Bauer Aviation Advisory.

“This has led to a game of finger-pointing with no results and benefits for the whole industry and passengers at the end of the day,” said Bauer. “Summer travels unfortunately have become a 'flight-mare' for passengers and has a very negative impact on the confidence to travel at the moment.”

Airports and airlines need to “harmonize” their processes to get out of the current situation. “Chasing for standardization should be avoided under these critical circumstances,” he added.

Heathrow's stellar numbers
Nearly 6 million passengers travelled through Heathrow in June, totalling 25 million passengers in the first six months of the year. The London airport has stated that it started recruiting in November 2021 in anticipation of capacity recovering this summer.

“By the end of July, we will have as many people working in security as we had pre-pandemic - we have also reopened Terminal 4 to provide more space for passengers,” said the operator in a statement last week.

London Heathrow has also increased its full-year 2022 forecast from 45.5 million passengers to nearly 53 million.

Dubai International (DXB), which had re-opened in full after the COVID-19 strike in mid-2020, forecasts a passenger turnout of 58.3 million this year after a sharp increase in traffic in recent weeks, and particularly during the Eid break earlier this month. The earlier estimates for 2022 were for 55.1 million passengers.