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Asked to cut ops, Emirates slams ill-equipped Heathrow for not choosing to ‘plan, invest’. Truce reached

Airports in Europe face holiday deluge, struggle with low resources after employee strikes, pandemic lay-offs.

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New Delhi: A face-off between Dubai-based carrier Emirates and London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR) has brought to the fore the terrible state of terminals around Europe, which are struggling to cobble together resources following pandemic layoffs and employee strikes.

On 14 July, Emirates rejected Heathrow Airport’s directive to cut down airline capacity as “unreasonable and unacceptable”.

The airline said the reduced passenger number demanded by LHR appeared to be “plucked from thin air”.

The carrier was appalled that LHR’s communication “not only dictated the specific flights on which we should throw out paying passengers, but also threatened legal action for non-compliance”.

Stating its ground-handling and catering services at the airport were “fully ready and capable of handling our flights”, the Middle-East carrier pointed out the “crux of the issue lay with the central services and systems which are the responsibility of the airport operator”.

The airline’s statement added: “Emirates is a key and steadfast operator at LHR, having reinstated 6 daily A380 flights since October 2021… Now, with blatant disregard for consumers, they wish to force Emirates to deny seats to tens of thousands of travelers who have paid for, and booked months ahead, their long-awaited package holidays or trips to see their loved ones. And this, during the super peak period with the upcoming UK holidays, and at a time when many people are desperate to travel after 2 years of pandemic restrictions.”

Slamming LHR for not choosing to “act, plan or invest”, the carrier called out its “incompetence and non-action” for creating an “airmageddon” situation and “pushing the entire burden – of costs and the scramble to sort the mess — to airlines and travelers”

However, given Emirates was a “key and steadfast operator at LHR”, both parties reached a truce on 15 July after the carrier agreed to cap further sales on its Heathrow flights till mid-August, in an attempt to “assist Heathrow in its resource ramp up”, and “to adjust capacity”.

What is happening at Heathrow?

The aviation industry in Europe is struggling to cope with the increased number of holiday passengers.

As people pack their bags after two years of pandemic restrictions, and airlines hope to cash in on Europe’s summer travel season — airports and airplane operators are said to be terribly unequipped to meet the load.

After airline employees went on strikes for better pay, coupled with pandemic downsizing, short-staffed airports started alerting passengers about potential delays and some airlines even cancelled flights to key destinations.

London’s Heathrow Airport couldn’t handle the flow of passengers and hence set a daily cap of 100,000 passengers – more than a 50 per cent cut from what it handled in 2019.

Emirates said Heathrow managed 219,000 passengers daily in 2019, but wanted to cut that by half though it claimed that 70 per cent of its ground resources were in place.

Can Heathrow pull its socks up?

Meanwhile, Heathrow’s chief executive John Holland-Kaye said placing a capacity cap and cutting passenger numbers by just a few thousand could make a huge difference

“We’re taking action with the cap to protect people’s holidays. We’ve got 100,000 passengers traveling through today, it’s the hottest day we’ve ever had, and the airport is working smoothly. That shows that the action we’re taking, in difficult circumstances, is working,” John said.

Flight cancellations, delays, and capacity cap aren’t the only problems facing the airport. The airport that confidently laid out expansion plans and charged customers hefty premiums has also been repeatedly suffering from chaos — long queues, lost baggage mountains and strike threats are normal.

Many passing through LHR are non-English speaking — and flight delay is not their only problem, they are also faced with missing luggages.

Business Insider reported the plight of a passenger whose luggage was stuck at the London Heathrow airport. He was told by American Airlines to go pick it up.

Holland-Kaye said the overriding factor was a lack of airline ground handling staff, either contracted out or directly employed.

“The reality is that if the airport, airlines, or ground handlers don’t have enough capacity, people are not going to get away on their flights in a much worse way: their flights canceled after they’ve checked in, maybe even on the plane,” Holland-Kaye said. “That’s the worst of all worlds,” Holland-Kaye told The Guardian.

Staff shortages have also been worsening due to extensive background checks for new recruits.

Interestingly, the immigration hall is the responsibility of the Home Office, while the automated baggage systems are run by Heathrow. Meanwhile, handlers who put the bags in or take them off are employed, or contracted, by airlines.

The people on the tarmac, pushing back aircraft from stands, and getting bags are the airlines’ direct or outsourced staff.

Also read: Uh oh. Data shows India-China trade deficit widening, Indian exports falling for 1st time in yrs


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