Explainer: Why has British Airways stopped selling short-haul flights from Heathrow?


In an unprecedented move, British Airways has withdrawn all short-haul flights from its main base, London Heathrow, from sale until August 9 at the earliest.

A, which operates more than half of flights from London Heathrow Airport, said: “We have decided to take responsible action”.

While intercontinental flights continue to be offered, upcoming domestic and European departures are closed to new sales.

These are the most important questions and answers.

Why did BA do this: Is it just running out of seats?

no There are still seats available on many of the airline’s Heathrow departures.

This decision, which will cost the airline a fortune in lost revenue, was made for two reasons:

  • To keep space available in the event of a disruption so passengers can be rebooked if flights are canceled or connections are missed due to delays.
  • Because Heathrow has imposed a strict limit of 100,000 departing passengers per day – and British Airways, by far the largest airline there, has to comply.

BA has already canceled tens of thousands of Heathrow flights because it doesn’t have the resources to operate them, but it appears the cuts weren’t enough to meet Heathrow’s ceiling.

Why is there a Heathrow cap?

Three weeks ago, Britain’s largest airport said there were “some critical functions at the airport that are still significantly understaffed, particularly ground handlers”. These are the companies that airlines use to provide check-in staff, load and unload baggage, and manage aircraft arrivals and departures.

Earlier in the summer, Heathrow says, when the number of departing passengers regularly exceeded 100,000 a day, there were unacceptable “queue times, delays for passengers requiring assistance, baggage not traveling with passengers or arriving late, poor punctuality and late cancellations Minute”.

Cut the number of departing passengers, Heathrow management believes, and you reduce the risk of everything falling apart. Therefore, a limit of 100,000 was set until September 11th.

A Heathrow spokesman said: “In the best interests of passengers, we have introduced a cap on the number of departures at Heathrow to allow for better, more reliable travel this summer.

“We are pleased with the actions taken by British Airways, acting responsibly and putting the passenger first.”

Don’t airlines usually make hay when the sun is out?

They definitely do. Airlines have racked up huge debts during the Covid-19 pandemic. They’re dying to pay it back, and the summer of 2022 should provide that opportunity.

At a time of high demand – and this summer is extreme in terms of people’s desire to fly – airlines can make amazing profits by selling the last few seats just before departure. The last few seats on last morning’s Ryanair flight from Manchester to Alicante, for example, sold for £336/€401 one-way, compared to just £27/€32 over three months for the identical flight.

It is unprecedented that a leading global airline like British Airways has decided to halt the sale of tickets from its main base to UK regional airports and mainland Europe in what is the most lucrative month of the year.

Are existing BA bookings affected?

No, although the airline is offering flexibility to anyone who has booked a short-haul flight by August 7 to ease the pressure on numbers.

“You can rebook on a British Airways operated service to any date within the next 12 months from your original travel date free of charge, subject to availability.

“Alternatively you can request a voucher for the value of your booking and when you are ready to use your voucher to book new flights you can do so online.”

The voucher is valid for travel up to September 30th, 2023.

How long do you expect this BA policy to last?

I asked the airline when Heathrow seats would go back up for sale but the airline said nothing.

In a statement, British Airways said: “Following Heathrow’s request to cap new bookings, we have decided to take responsible action and cap available fares on some Heathrow services in order to increase rebooking options for existing customers in light of the restrictions imposed maximize on us and the ongoing challenges facing the entire aviation industry.”

Rob Burgess, editor of frequent flyer website Head for Points, said: “It’s very possible that ticket sales will be restricted for the rest of the summer – at least until we get over the August bank holiday weekend.

“Anyone who has to depart Heathrow on British Airways in August and has not yet booked a ticket should book as soon as possible in case booking is closed for additional dates.”

Do other airlines do the same?

Reactions to the Heathrow cap varied from airline to airline.

Some have canceled flights and switched passengers to other flights where possible. Any passenger whose flight is grounded has the right to be flown to their destination on the original day on an airline that has space.

Other airlines have restricted access to Heathrow flights for employees traveling on discounted tickets.

And some simply take off with a significant number of empty seats.

Is this likely to become a regular summer sight?

no Airlines are furious that their earning potential is being cut. Flight schedules analyst OAG’s John Grant predicts that around 20,000 seats could remain unsold at Heathrow each day.

He said: “Overall, London Heathrow is targeting a reduction in passenger numbers of around 1,375,000 through September and that’s a lot of lost revenue.”

Mr Grant put the cost at perhaps half a billion pounds (597 million euros).

Heathrow, which also loses financially with every ‘missing’ passenger, will deal with all areas of congestion ahead of the next peak season, Christmas and New Year. Explainer: Why has British Airways stopped selling short-haul flights from Heathrow?

Fry Electronics Team

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