Emirates: Heathrow Is Demanding Airlines ‘Throw Out Paying Passengers’

The airline is resisting LHR’s efforts to impose capacity limits to deal with staffing shortages at the airport.

Credit: Nigel Howarth/Aviation Week Network

Emirates Airline has refused to accept the demands of London Heathrow (LHR) that carriers operating to the UK hub should cut capacity over the summer peak season.   

The airport has asked all airlines to stop selling flight tickets for departing passengers until Sept. 11, as it struggles to maintain services in the face of ongoing staffing shortages. LHR has capped the number of daily departing passengers at 100,000 and approximately the same number of arriving travelers.  

Emirates operates six daily Airbus A380 flights between Dubai (DXB) and Heathrow.

In a strongly worded statement issued July 14, Emirates said that it valued its partnerships with airport stakeholders across its network “with whom we engage continuously, and collaboratively, to secure our flight operations and ensure minimal customer disruption.”  

The UAE airline added: “It is therefore highly regrettable that LHR last evening gave us 36 hours to comply with capacity cuts, of a figure that appears to be plucked from thin air. Their communications not only dictated the specific flights on which we should throw out paying passengers, but also threatened legal action for non-compliance. This is entirely unreasonable and unacceptable, and we reject these demands.”  

The major pinch point at Heathrow has shifted in recent weeks from security staff to ground handlers, with widespread complaints of passengers failing to be reunited with their baggage on arrival, or discovering after departing that bags had not been loaded.  

Emirates noted that its ground handling and catering services at LHR are operated by Dnata, part of the Emirates Group, and are “fully ready and capable of handling our flights.”

The airline added: “From our past 10 months of regularly high seat loads, our operational requirements cannot be a surprise to the airport. Now … [LHR wants] to force Emirates to deny seats to tens of thousands of travelers who have paid for, and booked months ahead, their long-awaited package holidays or trips to see their loved ones.”   

The carrier said that “re-booking the sheer numbers of potentially impacted passengers is impossible with all flights running full for the next weeks, including at other London airports and on other airlines.”  

Emirates continued: “Now faced with an ‘armageddon’ situation due to their incompetence and non-action, [LHR is] pushing the entire burden—of costs and the scramble to sort the mess—to airlines and travelers. Until further notice, Emirates plans to operate as scheduled to and from LHR.”    

Responding, a Heathrow spokesperson said a key problem was airline ground-handling teams that are “currently only resourced up to 70% capacity to serve passenger demand, which has returned to 80-85% of pre-pandemic levels.” 

He added: “For months we have asked airlines to help come up with a plan to solve their resourcing challenges, but no clear plans were forthcoming and with each passing day the problem got worse. We had no choice but to take the difficult decision to impose a capacity cap.”   

Something will have to give: Emirates has stated it will make no cuts and the LHR spokesperson said “airlines are required to comply with the process to manage passenger demand at the airport.”