British Airways Pauses Short-Haul Flight Sales From Heathrow

The carrier's move is in response to the airport's request that airlines limit bookings to help ease travel disruptions.

British Airways said Tuesday it's suspending sales of short-haul flights from London's Heathrow Airport for about a week, a response to the airport's request to limit bookings to help ease travel disruptions caused by booming demand and staff shortages.

The suspension applies to new bookings to domestic U.K. and European destinations departing from Heathrow, Britain's busiest airport, until Monday. Passengers, however, can still book short-haul flights to the airport. British Airways said the move applies to short-haul flights only, generally defined as up to three hours long.

The airline said it was taking action after Heathrow capped daily departing passenger numbers at 100,000 until Sept. 11. The airport asked airlines to stop selling tickets and cut flights, stirring criticism.

Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, meanwhile, said it's extending its daily passenger cap into October.

Passenger traffic at European airports has boomed after two years of Covid-19 travel restrictions, but airports and airlines haven't been able to keep up because they laid off many thousands of staff in the depths of the pandemic. Heathrow and Schiphol have been among the hardest hit.

"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 maximize rebooking options for existing customers, given the restrictions imposed on us and the ongoing challenges facing the entire aviation industry," British Airways said in a press statement.

Heathrow has been the frequent scene of travel mayhem this summer, with long lines for security, and technical glitches with the baggage system that resulted in huge piles of lost and unclaimed luggage.

The airport apologized last month to passengers whose travels were disrupted and said service levels had been unacceptable.

British Airways had initially responded to Heathrow's passenger cap by canceling 10,300 flights until October. The airline's owner, International Consolidated Airlines Group, last week reported quarterly profit of US$299 million, its first profit since the pandemic began, citing a strong recovery in demand.

In Amsterdam, Schiphol said that after consulting with airlines, daily departing passengers will be capped at 67,500 in September and 69,500 in October. The caps would help the airport cope with "operational changes," such as delayed arriving or departing flights.

The number is lower than August's 73,000 daily cap because of the "seasonal effect" in the fall. "Travelers use more bins at security control after the summer because they wear more clothes, such as coats, hiking boots and vests," the airport said on its website. "As a result, it takes a little longer to check all the hand baggage and the passengers."

Schiphol also plans to hire 280 more security staff by October, saying "virtually all parties at the airport are understaffed," which means any unexpected changes could result in a cascade of delays to the "entire airport process."