British Airways has suspended ticket sales on short-haul flights from Heathrow until 8 August after the London airport’s decision to cap capacity and tackle widespread disruption and cancellations.
The airline said the sales suspension on domestic and European destinations was designed to allow existing customers to rebook flights when needed.
Airlines and airports across Britain and Europe have struggled to cope with the rebound in post-lockdown travel, with many failing to recruit enough staff to handle check-ins and baggage.
Heathrow, like Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, has told airlines to limit the number of tickets they sell over the summer, after it capped the number of passengers flying from the hub at 100,000 a day to limit queues, baggage delays and cancellations.
Heathrow said last week that the cap had delivered a marked improvement in punctuality and baggage handling.
“As a result of Heathrow’s request to limit new bookings, we’ve decided to take responsible action and limit the available fares on some Heathrow services to help maximise rebooking options for existing customers, given the restrictions imposed on us and the ongoing challenges facing the entire aviation industry,” BA said in a statement.
However, one industry expert argued that it was positive news for consumers because it would allow the airline to make sure that people who had confirmed bookings would still be able to fly on schedule.
Julia Lo Bue-Said – the chief executive of the industry body Advantage Travel Partnership – told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It is positive news for consumers. In one respect it sounds quite counterintuitive that an airline would be reducing seats at a peak period, but absolutely it’s all about building resilience, making sure there’s less disruption,” and less risk to those who have booked.
The company earlier responded to Heathrow’s cap on passenger numbers by announcing it would cancel 10,300 flights until October, with a million passengers affected.
While the move stops BA’s access to the lucrative last-minute flight market during peak season, Lo Bue-Said argued it was a short-term solution to meet consumer demand while minimising disruptions.
“It enables them to kind of scale up in a way,” said Lo Bue-Said.
Responding to the news on Twitter, one user asked: “Shouldn’t short-haul flights be banned anyway on environmental grounds as well as reducing pressure on airports?”
Emirates last month rejected Heathrow’s order to cancel flights to comply with the cap. The airline accused the airport of showing “blatant disregard for consumers” by attempting to force it to “deny seats to tens of thousands of travellers”.
A Heathrow spokesperson said at the time it would be “disappointing” if any airline “would want to put profit ahead of a safe and reliable passenger journey”.
Virgin Atlantic also criticised the airport’s actions and claimed it was responsible for failures that were contributing to the chaos.
Airlines on 21 July were accused of “harmful practices” in their treatment of passengers affected by disruption.
The Competition and Markets Authority and the Civil Aviation Authority issued a joint letter to carriers, expressing concern that “consumers could experience significant harm unless airlines meet their obligations”.
The letter stated: “We are concerned that some airlines may not be doing everything they could to avoid engaging in one or more harmful practices.”
These include selling more tickets for flights “than they can reasonably expect to supply”, not always “fully satisfying obligations” to offer flights on alternative airlines to passengers affected by cancellations, and failing to give consumers “sufficiently clear and upfront information about their rights”.
Last month, BA check-in staff at Heathrow threatened to strike over pay. A package was later agreed to restore the 10% pay cut introduced during the pandemic.
British Airways suspends Heathrow short-haul ticket sales