Heathrow’s 2021 passenger numbers fell to 50-year low

By Lisa James
23/02/2022
Home » Heathrow’s 2021 passenger numbers fell to 50-year low

Heathrow Airport has said 2021 was the worst in its history, with passenger numbers falling to 19.4 million, the lowest since 1972.

Latest results from the airport show Heathrow was the only European hub to see a reduction in traffic last year, due to tighter travel restrictions than European Union countries. 

Cargo, mainly carried on passenger planes, was 12% down on pre-pandemic levels.

Cumulative losses during the pandemic have risen to £3.8bn due to lower passengers and high fixed costs and no dividends were paid in 2021 or are forecast to be paid in 2022.

Heathrow said passenger numbers are currently 23% behind forecast, but it predicts a strong summer for outbound tourism.

“Despite lower-than-expected passenger numbers in January and February, we are expecting a surge of Brits heading for summer sun and are working with our airline partners to ramp up operations to ensure they have a great experience at Heathrow, including reopening Terminal 4 by July. We expect to meet our 2022 target of 45.5m passengers,” the airport said in a statement.

The statement added: “Removing testing restrictions in the UK has boosted outbound tourism demand, but inbound tourism and business travel are suppressed due to testing in other countries. 

“63% of our markets retain some form of travel restriction or testing requirements, and government responses to Omicron show how uncertain broader travel demand remains. We don’t expect travel to return to pre-pandemic levels until all restrictions have been removed, passengers can travel with no checks and are confident they will not be reimposed.   

“While we have paused work to expand Heathrow during COVID-19, the crisis has shown the pent-up demand from airlines to fly from Heathrow, as well as how critical Heathrow is for UK’s trade routes and the risk to the economy of Britain relying on EU hubs which can close borders overnight. We will review our plans for expansion over the course of the next year.

Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said: “Demand is now starting to recover and we are working closely with airlines to scale-up our operations and reopen Terminal 4 for the summer travel peak.”

“We have outlined an investment plan for the next five years which meets the needs of passengers, drives fast traffic recovery and incentivises investment in a critical national asset, while keeping the increase in ticket prices below 2% despite significantly fewer passengers.”

However, he warned: “I am anxious that the CAA will undercook the investment needed to avoid the return of ‘Heathrow hassle’ with longer queues and delays.”   

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