Heathrow Offers Bleak Outlook as Omicron Halts Long-Haul Rebound
London’s Heathrow airport said passenger numbers are likely to recover to barely half of pre-Covid levels next year as the pandemic continues to ravage long-haul travel markets.
The number of travelers in 2022 is likely to reach 45 million, Heathrow said in a statement Friday. That compares with a record 81 million in 2019, when the hub ranked as Europe’s busiest.
Traffic is being held back as governments reimpose travel curbs, testing and quarantines in a bid to hold back the omicron variant of the coronavirus. Heathrow, whose business is dependent on the inter-continental markets that have been slowest to recover from the crisis, said it’s seeing high cancellation levels among business travelers concerned about being trapped overseas.
November traffic fell 60% from pre-pandemic levels, despite a reopening of U.S. borders for non-Americans early in the month, a step that was expected to provide a major boost. Rising infection rates caused a number of European countries to restrict entry, even before omicron was identified.
Heathrow, whose biggest carrier is British Airways, attracted 16.3 million customers in the first 11 months, suggesting the full-year total may be fall short of 20 million. That compares with a tally of 22 million last year.
The airport said it sees a slow start to 2022, warning that international travel won’t reach 2019 levels until all travel restrictions, including testing, are removed at both ends of the routes it serves. Potential passengers also need to be convinced that there’s no risk of new curbs being imposed, it said, something “likely to be several years away.”
Chief Executive Officer John Holland-Kaye said employers at the airport need a sign that government restrictions will be lifted as rapidly as possible in order to move forward with hiring thousands of staff for the summer high season.
“It would send a strong signal that restrictions on travel will be removed as soon as safely possible to give passengers the confidence to book for 2022,” he said in the release.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.