Skip to content

It's official: Heathrow’s controversial passenger cap will last until late October

Aug. 16, 2022
5 min read
plane taking off
It's official: Heathrow’s controversial passenger cap will last until late October
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

London's Heathrow Airport (LHR) has officially extended its 100,000-passenger-per-day cap until late October as it continues to struggle with the return of travel following the lifting of COVID-19-related restrictions.

The hobbled hub had planned to end the cap on Sept. 11. However, after reports that Heathrow chiefs were looking to buy more time to fix their issues, an extension became official Tuesday.

The passenger limit will now last until Oct. 29 — overlapping with the autumn half-term break for most schools.

Want more airline-specific news? Sign up for TPG’s free new biweekly Aviation newsletter!

Britain's busiest airport implemented the limit in July because an uptick in travel put much of the airline industry in distress.

As millions of vacationers scrambled to get away for the first time in two years, airports creaked under their weight; this led to to flight delays, cancellations, long security lines, strikes and luggage handling meltdowns.

Airlines blame Heathrow

Heathrow blames an industrywide staffing shortage for the chaos. Airlines, on the other hand, blame Heathrow for failing to sufficiently prepare for the surge in travel demand after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted in March.

By far, representatives from Emirates have been the most vocal toward the airport; the company accused Heathrow of unleashing an "airmageddon" on the sector, branding the limits "entirely unreasonable and unacceptable."

An Emirates Airbus A380 prepares to land at Heathrow Airport. (Photo by Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

"[London Heathrow] chose not to act, not to plan, not to invest," the airline said in July. "Now faced with an 'airmageddon' situation due to their incompetence and non-action, they are pushing the entire burden — of costs and the scramble to sort the mess — to airlines and travellers."

Sign up for our daily newsletter

On Tuesday, Virgin Atlantic expressed disappointment at the extension. "We are disappointed that Heathrow Airport has already decided to extend the passenger capacity cap until the end of October, as additional resources come on line every week and the airport experience improves," a spokesperson said. "Airline customers have a right to expect their bookings will be honoured and we're doing everything in our power to minimise disruption, getting our customers to where they need to be smoothly."

Meanwhile, Ryanair, which does not fly from Heathrow, used the announcement as an opportunity to stick the boot into the troubled airport; the airline touted the 500 new routes it has added at London Stansted Airport (STN) for the October half-term school holiday.

"While hopeless Heathrow continues to mismanage air travel, Ryanair and London Stansted will continue to grow and deliver for London families, the way we have through all of summer 2022," Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary said.

He said Ryanair and Stansted have "more than sufficient staff" to handle the additional flights.

Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary used the announcement as an opportunity to tout the 500 new routes his airline has added at London Stansted. (Photo by Gerard Julien/Getty Images)

Feedback from others

The cap extension will likely have less impact on vacation plans in the fall than it has had throughout the summer. There will probably be fewer passengers once school starts up again, meaning normal passenger numbers may not even reach the cap on some days.

However, consumer rights group Which? said the extension will nevertheless be a source of anxiety for many — especially for families hoping to travel in October. Describing the situation as "a mess," the group's travel editor Guy Hobbs urged the airport to provide clarity to vacationers about the flight schedule.

“Heathrow and impacted airlines must act without delay to provide travelers with clarity on which flights are being cut, and airlines must ensure affected passengers are aware of their rights to rebooking or refunds," he said. “The aviation industry and the government need to ensure that this mess is sorted out as soon as possible – passenger caps cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely.”

Related: British Airways has ended its short-haul ticket freeze from Heathrow

Heathrow said the cap has been working, leading to “fewer last-minute cancellations” and “shorter waits for bags.”

It added that the cap “could be lifted earlier [than Oct. 29] should there be a sustained picture of better resilience and a material increase in resourcing levels.”

“Our primary concern is ensuring we give our passengers a reliable service when they travel," Heathrow chief commercial officer Ross Baker said.

Related: Heathrow’s ‘baggage mountain’ affects 15,000 passengers

Cabin crew members arrive at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 in 2021. (Photo by Tolga Akmen/Getty Images)

“That’s why we introduced temporary capacity limits in July which have already improved journeys during the summer getaway," he said. "We want to remove the cap as soon as possible, but we can only do so when we are confident that everyone operating at the airport has the resources to deliver the service our passengers deserve.”

While Heathrow officials hope an additional month of capped flights will give them more space and time to fix the system, it’s fair to say the Department for Transport and the Civil Aviation Authority aren’t on board.

In a joint letter to Heathrow’s CEO John Holland-Kaye last month, they asked why "Heathrow has determined that 100,000 departing passengers per day provide a safe and resilient airport with a positive passenger experience."

They also asked those on the ground at the London air hub to “develop a credible and resilient capacity recovery plan for the next six months” and prepare themselves for “weather shocks” and the arrival of the school holidays.

Featured image by Featured photo by Getty images.
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

TPG featured card

Best luxury travel rewards card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

5X points
5XEarn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.
5XEarn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.

Intro offer

Earn 80,000 Points
Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.

Annual Fee

$695

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent/Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

Sometimes it's worth a large investment to reap the benefits of a great credit card. That's exactly the case with the Amex Platinum card. In exchange for the annual fee, you'll unlock access to the Amex Membership Rewards program that let you access airline and hotel transfer partners, along with new lifestyle and travel credits. This card is also incredibly rewarding for travel purchases, helping you rack up a ton of Membership Rewards points for your next award trip.

Pros

  • The current welcome offer on this card is quite lucrative. TPG values it at $1,600.
  • This card comes with a long list of benefits, including access to Centurion Lounges, complimentary elite status with Hilton and Marriott, at least $500 in assorted annual statement credits and so much more. (Enrollment required for select benefits.)
  • The Amex Platinum comes with access to a premium concierge service that can help you with everything from booking hard-to-get reservations to finding destination guides to help you plan out your next getaway.

Cons

  • The high annual fee is only worth it if you’re taking full advantage of the card’s benefits. Seldom travelers may not get enough value to warrant the cost.
  • Outside of the current welcome bonus, you’re only earning higher rewards on specific airfare and hotel purchases, so it’s not a great card for other spending categories.
  • The annual airline fee statement credit can be complicated to take advantage of compared to the broader travel credits offered by competing premium cards.
  • Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Apply and select your preferred metal Card design: classic Platinum Card®, Platinum x Kehinde Wiley, or Platinum x Julie Mehretu.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year and earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Get $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings, which requires a minimum two-night stay, through American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card®.
  • $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 back each month on eligible purchases made with your Platinum Card® on one or more of the following: Audible, Disney+, The Disney Bundle, ESPN+, Hulu, Peacock, SiriusXM, and The New York Times. Enrollment required.
  • $155 Walmart+ Credit: Cover the cost of a $12.95 monthly Walmart+ membership with a statement credit after you pay for Walmart+ each month with your Platinum Card. Cost includes $12.95 plus applicable local sales tax. Plus Ups are excluded.
  • American Express has expanded The Centurion® Network to include 40+ Centurion Lounge and Studio locations worldwide. There are even more places your Platinum Card® can get you complimentary entry and exclusive perks.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one select qualifying airline.
  • $200 Uber Cash: Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status is available to Basic Card Member only.
  • Get up to $300 back per calendar year on the Equinox+ digital fitness app, or eligible Equinox club memberships when you pay with your Platinum Card. Enrollment required. Learn more.
  • Breeze through security with CLEAR® lanes available at 100+ airports, stadiums, and entertainment venues and get up to $189 back per calendar year on your membership when you use your Card. Learn more.
  • $695 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for The Platinum Card® from American Express
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best luxury travel rewards card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

5XEarn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.
5XEarn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.

    Earn 80,000 Points
  • Annual Fee

    $695
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

Sometimes it's worth a large investment to reap the benefits of a great credit card. That's exactly the case with the Amex Platinum card. In exchange for the annual fee, you'll unlock access to the Amex Membership Rewards program that let you access airline and hotel transfer partners, along with new lifestyle and travel credits. This card is also incredibly rewarding for travel purchases, helping you rack up a ton of Membership Rewards points for your next award trip.

Pros

  • The current welcome offer on this card is quite lucrative. TPG values it at $1,600.
  • This card comes with a long list of benefits, including access to Centurion Lounges, complimentary elite status with Hilton and Marriott, at least $500 in assorted annual statement credits and so much more. (Enrollment required for select benefits.)
  • The Amex Platinum comes with access to a premium concierge service that can help you with everything from booking hard-to-get reservations to finding destination guides to help you plan out your next getaway.

Cons

  • The high annual fee is only worth it if you’re taking full advantage of the card’s benefits. Seldom travelers may not get enough value to warrant the cost.
  • Outside of the current welcome bonus, you’re only earning higher rewards on specific airfare and hotel purchases, so it’s not a great card for other spending categories.
  • The annual airline fee statement credit can be complicated to take advantage of compared to the broader travel credits offered by competing premium cards.
  • Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Apply and select your preferred metal Card design: classic Platinum Card®, Platinum x Kehinde Wiley, or Platinum x Julie Mehretu.
  • Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year and earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
  • Get $200 back in statement credits each year on prepaid Fine Hotels + Resorts® or The Hotel Collection bookings, which requires a minimum two-night stay, through American Express Travel when you pay with your Platinum Card®.
  • $240 Digital Entertainment Credit: Get up to $20 back each month on eligible purchases made with your Platinum Card® on one or more of the following: Audible, Disney+, The Disney Bundle, ESPN+, Hulu, Peacock, SiriusXM, and The New York Times. Enrollment required.
  • $155 Walmart+ Credit: Cover the cost of a $12.95 monthly Walmart+ membership with a statement credit after you pay for Walmart+ each month with your Platinum Card. Cost includes $12.95 plus applicable local sales tax. Plus Ups are excluded.
  • American Express has expanded The Centurion® Network to include 40+ Centurion Lounge and Studio locations worldwide. There are even more places your Platinum Card® can get you complimentary entry and exclusive perks.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit: Get up to $200 in statement credits per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one select qualifying airline.
  • $200 Uber Cash: Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status is available to Basic Card Member only.
  • Get up to $300 back per calendar year on the Equinox+ digital fitness app, or eligible Equinox club memberships when you pay with your Platinum Card. Enrollment required. Learn more.
  • Breeze through security with CLEAR® lanes available at 100+ airports, stadiums, and entertainment venues and get up to $189 back per calendar year on your membership when you use your Card. Learn more.
  • $695 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees