a sign in an airport

When a flight gets cancelled, most travelers draw the most direct line to the blame. The airline is almost instantly the “bad guy” whether they had anything to do with the flight cancellation, or not.

Heathrow Airport is forcing airlines to cancel more flights, as the airport’s systems fail and it struggles to attract staff capable of handling full scale demand. This comes after Heathrow tried to pull a fast one on price regulators, pretending travel demand would not recover, so the airport could ask for higher “per passenger” fees to charge.

I think enough is enough, and it’s Heathrow Airport, not the airlines, who should have to call and break the bad cancellation news to passengers and get them all rebooked. It’s entirely their fault, not the airlines in this instance.

Passengers should know its the lousy UK airport that’s ruining their trip, not airlines trying their hardest to get back on their feet and connect the world.

a sign in an airport

Heathrow Is An Insanely Greedy Operation

For decades, Heathrow Airport’s wealthy owners made money hand over fist — but prioritized billions in shareholder dividends over any meaningful upgrades to airport facilities, all while cutting employee terms and pay.

The Heathrow passenger experience lacks most European Airports, and is miles off the standards found throughout Asia Pacific and the Middle East.

A major misconception among the general public is that Heathrow is a public service, like the Tube. It’s not. You should expect a lot more, because It’s not a public service — it’s a massively profitable private business, which should fund a world class passenger experience.

Spoiler alert: it hasn’t.

Heathrow is owned by a complex structure of investment subsidiaries acting on behalf of the Chinese state, and Qatari Investment Authority, among others.

Heathrow shareholders have milked every last ounce of profit and potential for dividends, even during the pandemic, while skimping on the facilities and experience.

Airlines have spent fortunes trying to spruce up the sub-standard airport spaces and systems to make the most of what they have, all while Heathrow Airport attempts to use flawed data to command higher passenger fees, which would force airlines to pay more to the airport for each ticket sold.

Heathrow Should Own Cancellations

Passengers are waking up furious to a new wave of flight cancellations, none of which are the fault of airlines this time. They did their best to invest and ramp up operations in time for summer, yet Heathrow Airport did not.

In a fair and just world, Heathrow would be investing in call centers and training right now to service the passenger needs of every flight they forced to be cancelled. Instead, airlines are taking heat for problems they didn’t create.

It’s wrong, and is only adding new stress to already stressed operations. Heathrow is responsible and should be responsible for dealing with the customer service.

If you’re caught up in this most recent wave of cancellations at Heathrow, remember it’s the airports fault, not your airline this time. And if you’d like to see a better airport, perhaps let the CAA know how you feel about the operation.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. All great (and valid) points you make here and it’s hard to disagree with any of it. Except, as bad as heathrow might be, how often do airlines cancel flights not due to airports? The answer: OFTEN. How often do they delay not due to airports? Often. Airlines are infamous for over-selling, scheduling more than any facility can accommodate, more than they can staff, often lack catering, etc. In this rather rare case where truly the airlines are at the mercy of the airport, ok they have a valid reason to cancel flights. But seriously, this is not “oh poor airlines…” They do this crap all the time and blame bs things like weather. Of course I know it’s all an inter-connected system and anything that goes wrong in one location can easily go wrong in another. I used to work for multiple airlines so am very well aware of how it all works.

    Anyway my point is that, sure LHR is demanding cancellations, but it will get passed off by the airlines as “out of their control” just like nearly everything else they do and blame someone else. Gate changes, late arrivals, long taxi timex (especially at DFW) causing missed connections, gate holds (due to aircraft on gate), no tugs to pushback, hour long bag drops…yeah that’s all “weather”. Airlines blame anything they can. They will just pass the buck on this like everything else. In this case is it their fault? Maybe not. But it’s not like they are upfront and always gleefully volunteer to take the blame for most of the delays or cancellations that they cause themselves. They are far from innocent with passing blame around.

  2. The airlines would have you believe it’s all HAL, but the reality is that there’s a lot of finger pointing and blame to go around here – saying it’s the airport only is too simplistic.

    There’s clearly a shortage of ground handlers. That’s on ground handling companies at LHR – but also on BA.

    BA also clearly lacks airport staff trained in ticketing, having cut most of them… and now they can’t rebook their own passengers.

    Are there issues with HAL, yes. But BA in particular is not guiltless.

    People may not want to hear it, but BREXIT is also a cause – the UK lost a lot of labour market flexibility that’s not been replaced.

  3. Heathrow has a Horizons group where members get polled on a variety of questions. Some have included “how much would you be willing to pay for’ type questions. There’s never the option not to pay more! There’s usually questions about shopping and lots of greenwashing promotional material they want to rate. It’s usually about some other way they can find to fleece passengers.

    Several years ago I attended a research night run by HAC and the question that stuck in my mind was about paying for food at the same exhortationate price motorway services charge. At least on the motorway you could stop off and find local alternatives. All you can do at an airport is bring your own food.

    London has 6 airports to choose from but of course most airlines want to land in Heathrow. However people are looking at doing European connections instead. I’ve just used LCY to go to the South of France via Amsterdam. I’m using it to fly to Australia via Frankfurt. It might be a couple of hours more flying time but less waiting around to get to and at LHR.

    Heathrow is another example of the failure of privatisation. Like the railways and the NHS, it’d better to be in state hands rather than an offshore owner.

  4. HAl has alot to answer for but remind me who runs the baggage operations at the largest terminal? I believe it’s their largest tenant who if anything is even more culpable for failure to invest (or even maintain) critical systems.

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