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Passengers using Heathrow airport fall to lowest level since 1972 | Travel & leisure

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The number of passengers travelling through Heathrow airport fell to 19.4 million in 2021, its lowest level for nearly 50 years, the airport has said as it reported a pre-tax loss of £1.8bn.

As a result, its cumulative losses during the pandemic have reached £3.8bn, despite having cut £870m in costs, as international travel was disrupted by travel restrictions, and Covid testing and quarantine requirements.

The airport said it was the only European hub to see a reduction in traffic last year, falling to levels last seen in 1972, which it blamed on tighter restrictions in the UK than EU countries. Cargo, which was mainly carried on passenger planes, was 12% lower than pre-pandemic levels.

Heathrow has had a weaker start to the year than it anticipated, as 23% fewer passengers than forecast passed through the airport in January and February.

However, it expects a surge of Britons to head off on holiday over the summer and is sticking to its forecast of 45.5 million passengers in 2022, more than double the number last year.

Heathrow is ramping up its operations in expectation of a surge of passengers heading to sunny destinations, and is planned to reopen Terminal 4 by July.

The removal of Covid testing requirements has increased demand among UK travellers, the airport said, although tourism and travel to the UK from overseas remains suppressed as a result of Covid measures in other countries.

The airports’s chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, described 2021 as “the worst year in Heathrow’s history”, but added: “Demand is now starting to recover and we are working closely with airlines to scale-up our operations.”

The airport said it does not expect travel to return to pre-pandemic levels until all restrictions have been removed, allowing passengers to travel without any Covid checks, and with confidence that restrictions will not be reintroduced.

However, those who do begin to travel again are likely to find it more expensive, after Heathrow outlined plans to increase its passenger charges, meaning ticket prices will rise by just under 2%.

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“We will work with airlines to make sure that we can bring down the costs over time. This is only a temporary adjustment while we come through the recovery phase then we look to bring costs down as we get beyond the Covid period,” Holland-Kaye told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

He said he did not expect passenger numbers to return to pre-Covid levels until 2025 or 2026.

“Passengers need to be confident and that’s not going to happen if we have another variant of concern,” he said.


The number of passengers travelling through Heathrow airport fell to 19.4 million in 2021, its lowest level for nearly 50 years, the airport has said as it reported a pre-tax loss of £1.8bn.

As a result, its cumulative losses during the pandemic have reached £3.8bn, despite having cut £870m in costs, as international travel was disrupted by travel restrictions, and Covid testing and quarantine requirements.

The airport said it was the only European hub to see a reduction in traffic last year, falling to levels last seen in 1972, which it blamed on tighter restrictions in the UK than EU countries. Cargo, which was mainly carried on passenger planes, was 12% lower than pre-pandemic levels.

Heathrow has had a weaker start to the year than it anticipated, as 23% fewer passengers than forecast passed through the airport in January and February.

However, it expects a surge of Britons to head off on holiday over the summer and is sticking to its forecast of 45.5 million passengers in 2022, more than double the number last year.

Heathrow is ramping up its operations in expectation of a surge of passengers heading to sunny destinations, and is planned to reopen Terminal 4 by July.

The removal of Covid testing requirements has increased demand among UK travellers, the airport said, although tourism and travel to the UK from overseas remains suppressed as a result of Covid measures in other countries.

The airports’s chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, described 2021 as “the worst year in Heathrow’s history”, but added: “Demand is now starting to recover and we are working closely with airlines to scale-up our operations.”

The airport said it does not expect travel to return to pre-pandemic levels until all restrictions have been removed, allowing passengers to travel without any Covid checks, and with confidence that restrictions will not be reintroduced.

However, those who do begin to travel again are likely to find it more expensive, after Heathrow outlined plans to increase its passenger charges, meaning ticket prices will rise by just under 2%.

Sign up to the daily Business Today email or follow Guardian Business on Twitter at @BusinessDesk

“We will work with airlines to make sure that we can bring down the costs over time. This is only a temporary adjustment while we come through the recovery phase then we look to bring costs down as we get beyond the Covid period,” Holland-Kaye told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

He said he did not expect passenger numbers to return to pre-Covid levels until 2025 or 2026.

“Passengers need to be confident and that’s not going to happen if we have another variant of concern,” he said.

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