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Emirates refuses to cut flights from Heathrow despite summer travel chaos

The cap to passenger numbers by Heathrow airport came after months of delays and cancelled flights
Holidaymakers and travellers arrive in the departure hall of Terminal 2 at London Heathrow Airport on 6 April 2022 (AFP)

Emirates airline on Thursday rejected demands by London's Heathrow Airport to cut capacity and said that it would continue to operate to schedule, despite being threatened with legal action.

The UK's busiest airport has asked airlines to stop selling tickets this summer and capped the daily number of passengers flying from Heathrow to 100,000 as it grapples with months of delays and cancelled flights due to staffing issues and the post-pandemic travel boom.

But the Dubai-based Emirates said in a statement on Thursday that it was "highly regrettable" that Heathrow had given the airline just 36 hours to comply with the capacity cuts, a figure it says appeared to be "plucked from thin air".

“Their communications not only dictated the specific flight on which we should throw out paying passengers, by also threatened legal action for non-compliance," the statement said.

“Until further notice, Emirates plans to operate as scheduled to and from [Heathrow].” 

Emirates also accused Heathrow management of having “blatant disregard” for consumers and being incompetent for failing to plan for surging demand following the end of travel restrictions brought in to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“The shareholders of London Heathrow should scrutinsie the decisions of the [Heathrow] management team,” it said.

But Heathrow responded to the move by Emirates to and said that they wanted to work with airlines on the capacity cap and that it would be "disappointing" if any carrier wanted to put profit ahead of "a safe and reliable passenger journey."

"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," a Heathrow spokesperson said.

Further action needed

Last week, Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said the capacity cap will come into effect fom 12 July to 11 September.

“Some airlines have taken significant action, but others have not, and we believe that further action is needed now to ensure passengers have a safe and reliable journey,” he said in a statement.

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But Emirates said that 70 percent of its passengers from Heathrow were booked to travel on connecting flights from Dubai, highlighting the impact the proposed cuts would have on its operations. 

It also said it was not practical to move flights at short notice to other British airports and that it would be impossible to rebook passengers from all the flights due to take off over the coming weeks.

It added that tens of thousands of passengers would be affected by Heathrow's requested cuts. 

Emirates flights to and from Heathrow have regularly had high occupancy over the past 20 months, with the airline saying it was clear there would be strong demand this summer. 

They also said that the Dubai National Air Travel Agency (DNATA), a unit of its parent Emirates Group that provided ground handling and catering services at Heathrow, was capable and ready to handle its flights.

“So the crux of the issue lies with the central services and systems which are the responsibility of the airport operators,” they said. 

Before the pandemic, on average, around 110,000 to 125,000 passengers departed from Heathrow airport over the summer period. 

But, the airport said it had seen “40 years of passenger growth in just four months.”

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