British Airways extends ban on Heathrow short-haul flights until August 15 – as BA ramps up ticket prices by more than TENFOLD amid scramble for summer getaways
- Airline said it was the ‘responsible’ thing to ‘give customers certainty about their travel plans’ over summer
- Costs of remaining BA flights have soared, with a flight from Heathrow to Amsterdam up to £511 from just £44
- Travel expert Simon Calder suggested the price rises could be an attempt to put people off from booking
British Airways‘ halt on sales of short-haul flights from Heathrow Airport will last until at least the middle of August, as the airline ramped up its prices more than tenfold amid a scramble for tickets.
Sales on BA’s domestic and European routes have been suspended by another week to August 15. The airline had already delayed sales to August 8 on Monday.
Experts warned today the ban on sales could last for the rest of the summer.
The move comes in response to Heathrow Airport’s cap on passenger numbers, which will stay in place until September 11.
Last night, aviation experts said it was ‘very possible’ ticket sales would be limited for the rest of summer, including the August bank holiday.
‘I’ve never seen anything like this before,’ one senior aviation source told The Times.
Thousands have been hit by airport chaos, last-minute cancellations and travel disruption across the UK as airports including Heathrow have struggled with staff shortages.
Airlines and airports cut staff throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and have struggled to recruit enough to cope with the number of passengers over the summer this year.
In July, Heathrow told airlines to stop selling summer tickets as the airport could not deal with the number of people heading for their summer holidays.
Passenger numbers at the UK’s biggest airport have been cut to 100,000 a day – 4,000 fewer than planned.
BA – the largest airline at Heathrow – said in a statement it had taken ‘pre-emptive action to reduce our schedule this summer to give customers certainty about their travel plans.’
‘When Heathrow introduced its passenger cap, we took a small number of additional flights from our schedule and to continue to comply with the cap, we’ve been taking responsible action by limiting sales or all the available fares on some of our Heathrow services to ensure more seats are available to rebook customers.’
The cost of British Airways flights has soared after the airline announced it would stop selling tickets for short-haul flights from Heathrow
Meanwhile, the cost of remaining BA flights has soared, with a flight from Heathrow to Amsterdam on August 27 costing £511 compared to just £44 in June.
Others included London City to Nice on August 8 (£662 from £99); Gatwick to Marrakesh on August 5 (£575 from £184); London City to Berlin on August 7 (£789 from £142); Heathrow to Barcelona on August 13 (£543 from £236); and Heathrow to Athens on August 27 (£691 from £218).
Paul Charles, from the PC Agency, told MailOnline: ‘What’s happening is that prices are going up due to demand. A lot of people are still researching and buying tickets, and that is pushing up the price of remaining tickets. BA is yield managing as they always have done.’
But Simon Calder, travel correspondent of The Independent, suggested the dramatic price rises could be an attempt to put people off from booking.
‘There is a tradition of airlines inflating air fares to absurd levels in a bid to stop people booking,’ he told MailOnline.
‘For example 24 hours before the collapse of Monarch in 2019, when presumably the top management and Civil Aviation Authority realised it was game over for the airline, all fares were increased by around £400 in the hope that no new customers would book and add to the scale of the problem.
‘British Airways is certainly not in financial trouble, but across a wide range of flights BA wants to keep seats open in case of cancellation or – more likely – missed connections.
‘My understanding is that it cannot simply close flights to further sale without messing up the ability of travel agents to amend bookings. So instead it prices flights at levels only the foolish or desperate would pay.
‘Then, when an arrival from Naples is over an hour late, as mine was last week, and connections are missed, some space is still available on other airlines.
‘In a perfect world, from the airlines’ perspective, fares would be pitched at levels that are high but not punitive: carriers such as BA earn a fortune from late bookings.
‘But right now aviation in the UK is in such a mess that it’s more about damage limitation – reducing the likelihood of having to pay out a fortune for disruption and getting on the wrong side of Heathrow.’
BA has cancelled more than 30,000 flights over the summer and axed more after Heathrow last month brought in a daily departing passenger cap of 100,000. It means customers are entitled to being re-booked on to alternative services if their original flight was cancelled, and the move is to ensure there are enough seats to accommodate those affected.
Those who can’t be re-booked on to a BA service will be entitled to be being given a seat on a rival carrier at great cost to the airline.
It comes after Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye warned curbs on holiday flights from the UK and European airports could continue until next summer.
Mr Holland-Kaye told the Mail: ‘We’ve seen no change in airline behaviour towards ground handling and unless something changes radically we’re going to be in the same situation in six months’ time or maybe even 12 months.’
Overhead views show another busy day at Heathrow airport as passengers continue to face lengthy delays at Terminal 2
Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye warned curbs on holiday flights from the UK and European airports could continue until next summer
The airport’s cap disproportionately affects BA as it is the largest airline at Heathrow.
BA’s decision to suspend sales will affect the whole industry, pushing up prices on rival carriers.
But it will help to stabilise the carrier’s operations and reduce the risk of disruption caused by overbooking.
BA’s suspension of ticket sales for short-haul ticket flights comes as passengers were filmed crawling through hatches in the baggage reclaim area at Manchester Airport, after they lost patience with hours of delays and ‘chaos.’
An undercover reporter working at Manchester Airport as a baggage handler for Swissport was told that travellers trying to get air-side to reach their bags ‘happens all the time.’
They added that it causes ‘fights’ and branded the situation ‘f*****g chaos’, saying the cause was that they had ‘literally no staff’.
Those who can’t be re-booked on to a BA service will be entitled to being given a seat on a rival carrier at great cost to the airline. Pictured: British Airways planes
The investigation by Channel 4 Dispatches – broadcast last night– also exposes how a whistle-blower claimed pilots with one budget airline feel pressured to fly longer hours while suffering fatigue.
While a UK Border Force insider warns that on current staffing levels, lengthy queues at passport control will exceed three hours if passenger numbers reach pre-pandemic levels.
The alarming revelations come after months of disruption which has seen a staggering 1.7million people flying out of or into the UK impacted by cancellations within 48 hours of their flight.
Channel 4’s Dispatches also discovered that physically demanding work that would typically be covered by two or more people was performed by individual handlers at Heathrow, with conditions at shifts starting at 3am described as ‘absolutely brutal’.
And a Wizz Air pilot whistle-blower told the programme about what they feel is pressure to fly longer hours.
Speaking anonymously, the pilot said: ‘There is a shortage of crew and to avoid cancelling flights they encourage staff to work harder.
‘There is pressure for us to help out by flying on our days off. You can report sick if you are fatigued but you will lose financially if you do.’
The Home Office today said the warning about queues at passport control exceeding three hours was ‘false’, with over nine out of ten passengers queuing for less than 30 minutes in July.
A spokeswoman said Border Force ‘works hard to ensure it has the right level of resources to check that passengers are compliant with our measures and to maintain border security as travel continues to open’.
It had recently recruited 800 new staff, she added.
BA’s suspension of ticket sales for short-haul ticket flights comes as passengers were filmed crawling through hatches in the baggage reclaim area at Manchester Airport, after they lost patience with hours of delays and ‘chaos.
The reporter also spoke to someone who said they ‘give up’ and have ‘had enough.’ The investigation also exposed that some pilots with one budget airline feel pressured to fly longer hours while suffering fatigue
Last month the Daily Mail revealed how Wizz Air’s chief executive Jozsef Varadi came under fire for encouraging airline staff to work through fatigue.
At the time he said: ‘We are all fatigued but sometimes it is required to take the extra mile.’
Wizz Air racked up losses of £550million for the 12 months to the end of March – although revenue more than doubled to £1.4billion.
Martin Chalk, general secretary of the British Airline Pilots Association, told Dispatches someone who was ‘fatigued’ was ‘not in a fit state to fly an aeroplane’.
Research for the programme claims almost seven in ten Wizz Air flights leaving the UK last month were delayed.
Swissport, the baggage-handling company used by many airlines, sacked over half of its 6,000 baggage handling staff during the pandemic.
In a bid to speed up counter-terrorist and accreditation checks on new recruits, ministers have ordered the vetting centre to prioritise airport staff to help plug the gaps quicker.
Swissport told the programme it was ‘sorry for our part in the disruption some people have experienced at Manchester Airport’.
‘We are doing everything we can to mitigate delays for passengers, including hiring more than 4,100 people since January,’ it added.
Wizz Air said ‘the safety and wellbeing of our passengers and crew is always our top priority’.
It said it operated an ‘industry-leading fatigue management system’ which was ‘regularly reviewed and monitored’ by aviation regulators.
Wizz Air told the Daily Mail it would ‘never compromise on safety’, adding that it had hired 400 pilots in the past nine months.
The reporter also spoke to people who were fed up and was told that they had been waiting one and a half hours for their bags
In a statement it said there were ‘no financial penalties’ for pilots if they reported that they were fatigued.
‘If our pilots report fatigue and alternative pilots cannot be found, then the flight will be cancelled,’ it said. ‘We will not hesitate to cancel flights whenever necessary to guarantee safety.’
In response to the claims, a Department for Transport (DfT) spokesman said: ‘We’ve done everything within our power to support the aviation industry, including providing £8billion to protect jobs during the pandemic, but it’s now for the sector itself to make passengers can get away on their well-deserved summer holidays.’
The department said action had included accelerated security vetting checks, as well as a temporary amnesty on airport slots to allow airlines to plan ahead and prevent last-minute cancellations.
The DfT spokesman added: ‘These measures are clearly working and flight cancellations have recently fallen back to their 2019 levels following the changes which are providing passengers with more certainty.’
In a statement to the Daily Mail, Swissport stressed that delays were caused by ‘disruption from multiple sources’ and not just ground handlers.
Headcount at Manchester Airport had seen a net increase of 415 this year, it added.
The firm stressed it did not work with airlines which had experienced disruption at Heathrow or Gatwick.
Manchester Airport – whose managing director, Karen Smart, resigned in April following weeks of chaos for travellers – stressed that the undercover filming was done around a month ago.
It said the first week of the school summer holidays had seen 95 per cent of passengers pass through security in under half an hour.
Ground handling including check in and baggage is the responsibility of individual airlines, it added.
MailOnline has contacted British Airways for comment.