Flight cancelations are undoubtedly one of the most frustrating turns of events for passengers. But having flight cancelations at the eleventh hour elevates frustrations to a new level. Unfortunately, for at least 10,000 passengers, London’s Heathrow International Airport has done just that. On Monday, the airport canceled more than 60 flights initially scheduled for the day itself.
Unexpected Monday chaos
For the second time in as many weeks, the decision to cancel many flights at the last minute was made by the airport’s management to stop its capacity from overfilling. The cherry on top was presumably when Heathrow’s management gave an additional order for airlines to not rebook the affected passengers onto any alternative flights departing on Monday.
A Heathrow spokesperson said:
“We expect higher passenger numbers in Terminals 3 and 5 today than the airport currently can serve, and so to maintain a safe operation, we have asked some airlines in Terminals 3 and 5 to remove a combined total of 61 flights from the schedule. We apologize for the impact to travel plans, and we are working closely with airlines to get affected passengers rebooked onto other flights.”
The nearly-full capacity didn’t just affect Heathrow’s human workforce but also its machinery, as problems with its baggage handling systems during the weekend have led to hundreds of bags not being put onto flights. Much to the dismay of passengers, the fear of lost luggage was coupled with a rotting smell coming from some, which had been sitting within the airport’s terminals for more than a week.
Even though this isn’t the first time Heathrow’s management has canceled several flights, the airport has reassured passengers that the schedule intervention was designed to keep everyone safe and ensure most passengers can get away as smoothly as possible. The same spokesperson continued by saying:
“While Heathrow is ramping up resources and will have as many security officers this summer as we had pre-pandemic, airspace constraints across Europe and a lack of airline ground handling staff can pose a risk to the smooth running of operations. As a result, we will take action to ensure passengers receive the service level they deserve.”
Heathrow had already expected to cancel 61 of the 1,100 flights scheduled on Monday, most of which were British Airways flights. Photo: Getty Images
Airlines remain grounded
Among the flights canceled on Heathrow’s departures board included numerous British Airways flights to destinations such as Glasgow, Gibraltar, and Zurich. Virgin Atlantic flights to Austin and Delhi were also grounded, while Air France and easyJet canceled several flights.
The sudden wave of cancellations comes in the wake of many airlines, such as British Airways, having already given up thousands of airport slots on short notice to cater to Heathrow’s brimming capacity. However, it would seem that even the voluntary giving up of slots was not enough, as Heathrow highlighted that nearly six million passengers passed through in June alone. This brings the total to 25 million in the first six months of this year, representing about 40 years of passenger growth in just a few months.
In light of the massive passenger growth and how further chaotic the upcoming months could be, Heathrow said it would once again review the airlines’ schedule changes made for the amnesty. Heathrow Chief Executive John Holland-Kaye said:
“We will review the schedule changes that airlines have submitted in response to the government’s requirement to minimize disruption for passengers this summer and will ask them to take further action if necessary.”
Wizz Air was the latest airline to reveal further cuts to its schedules by an additional 5%, despite forecasting a solid summer. Photo: Getty Images
Passengers lose out
Without the option to rebook for same-day departure, the 10,000 passengers were left stranded across Heathrow, Gatwick, and Stansted as their booked flights vanished. Passengers at Gatwick suffered a two-hour delay, with approximately 40 people waiting in a gate-hold room stairwell in the summer humidity. The sudden situation was due to the lack of coaches to transport them from the apron to the terminal, which prevented passengers from being able to embark or disembark from the parked aircraft.
Several passengers at Stansted were even asked to wait in a satellite terminal to help ease the crowd congestion. And while being stranded without an immediate rebook might have seemed like the worst-case scenario that passengers could endure, they would later figure out that they are not even entitled to compensation from airlines due to the cancelation being classified as outside of their control. Monday undoubtedly proved to be a nightmare for these passengers without compensation or the chance to be rebooked on another same-day flight.
Heathrow was ranked one of the worst UK airports, with the third-most significant delays last year. Photo: Heathrow International Airport
As is the case with several significant global aviation hubs, the reputation of Heathrow Airport has, unfortunately, deteriorated given the continuous rise of complications. Amongst the UK airports, Heathrow was ranked third for the most extensive flight delays, averaging 11 minutes and 48 seconds. The timing problem at Britain’s busiest airports was further compounded by poor punctuality of arrivals due to delays at other airports and airspace congestion across Europe.
Heathrow was criticized by International Air Transport Association (IATA) boss Willie Walsh on Sunday for not preparing better for the surge in demand. Undoubtedly, it will take a considerable length of time before peace restores within Heathrow and it earns back its lost reputation.