Emirates Rejects Heathrow’s Request To Cancel Flights (Update)

Update: Heathrow & Emirates have issued a joint statement, and the airline has agreed to cap the sale of flights through mid-August. You can find the statement below, and then underneath that is the original post from July 14, 2022.

“The President of Emirates Airline and the CEO of Heathrow Airport held a constructive meeting this morning. Emirates agreed the airline was ready and willing to work with the airport to remediate the situation over the next 2 weeks, to keep demand and capacity in balance and provide passengers with a smooth and reliable journey through Heathrow this summer.

Emirates has capped further sales on its flights out of Heathrow until mid-August to assist Heathrow in its resource ramp up, and is working to adjust capacity. In the meantime, Emirates flights from Heathrow operate as scheduled and ticketed passengers may travel as booked.”

Earlier this week, Heathrow Airport informed airlines that they’d need to reduce the number of passengers they book through the airport for the next two months, because the airport simply doesn’t have the capacity to handle the increase in demand.

Heathrow estimates that as of now, an average of 101,500 daily passengers are booked through the airport for the remainder of the summer, but the airport is asking airlines to reduce passenger numbers to an average of 100,000 per day.

It looks like not all airlines are going to be complying with these new rules, at least without a fight. Emirates has just published a rather scathing statement about the situation.

Emirates’ statement on Heathrow Airport request

Emirates has published a statement about the situation at Heathrow Airport, calling it “entirely unreasonable and unacceptable,” and stating that Heathrow management is “cavalier about travellers and their airline customers.” The Dubai-based airline is rejecting Heathrow’s demands.

I’d paraphrase, but the statement is so good that I think it has to be shared in its entirety.

Emirates values our partnerships with airport stakeholders across our network with whom we engage continuously, and collaboratively, to secure our flight operations and ensure minimal customer disruption, particularly over the peak travel months.

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.

At London Heathrow airport (LHR), our ground handling and catering – run by dnata, part of the Emirates Group – are fully ready and capable of handling our flights. So the crux of the issue lies with the central services and systems which are the responsibility of the airport operator.

Emirates is a key and steadfast operator at LHR, having reinstated 6 daily A380 flights since October 2021. From our past 10 months of regularly high seat loads, our operational requirements cannot be a surprise to the airport.

Now, with blatant disregard for consumers, they wish to force Emirates to deny seats to tens of thousands of travellers who have paid for, and booked months ahead, their long-awaited package holidays or trips to see their loved ones. And this, during the super peak period with the upcoming UK holidays, and at a time when many people are desperate to travel after 2 years of pandemic restrictions.

Emirates believes in doing the right thing by our customers. However, 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. Adding to the complexity, 70% of our customers from LHR are headed beyond Dubai to see loved ones in far flung destinations, and it will be impossible to find them new onward connections at short notice.

Moving some of our passenger operations to other UK airports at such short notice is also not realistic. Ensuring ground readiness to handle and turnaround a widebody long-haul aircraft with 500 passengers onboard is not as simple as finding a parking spot at a mall.

The bottomline is, the LHR management team are cavalier about travellers and their airline customers. All the signals of a strong travel rebound were there, and for months, Emirates has been publicly vocal about the matter.  We planned ahead to get to a state of readiness to serve customers and travel demand, including rehiring and training 1,000 A380 pilots in the past year.

LHR chose not to act, not to plan, not to invest. 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.

The shareholders of London Heathrow should scrutinise the decisions of the LHR management team.

Given the tremendous value that the aviation community generates for the UK economy and communities, we welcome the action taken by the UK Department for Transport and Civil Aviation Authority to seek information from LHR on their response plans, systems resilience, and to explain the seemingly arbitrary cap of 100,000 daily passengers. Considering LHR handled 80.9 million passengers annually in 2019, or a daily average of 219,000, the cap represents greater than a 50% cut at a time when LHR claims to have 70% of ground handling resources in place. 

Until further notice, Emirates plans to operate as scheduled to and from LHR.

Emirates doesn’t want to reduce flights to Heathrow

Emirates is spot on

Emirates’ statement on this situation is convincing:

  • As much as many airlines and airports would have you believe otherwise, the increase in travel demand this summer shouldn’t have come as a surprise, and there was plenty of time to prepare
  • It’s a bit ridiculous that Heathrow imposes this limit on such short notice, especially since it’s not like anything changed overnight
  • It’s not really fair to airline customers or passengers that Heathrow’s lack of planning is their responsibility

The one thing that Emirates is not correct about is the claim that Heathrow had 219K daily average travelers in 2019, and the cap is now 100K daily travelers, representing a ~54% reduction in traffic compared to 2019. That’s not quite correct, since the 219K number includes arrivals and departures, while the 100K cap only includes departures.

Now, while I absolutely think Emirates is correct big picture, I can’t help but wonder how this is going to play out.

Presumably Heathrow won’t just take Emirates saying “no” as an answer, or else other airlines may try the same. However, it seems Heathrow needs to take on more of the burden of the cancelations. Will this turn into a big lawsuit, or how else could this play out?

Furthermore, while Emirates is correct about Heathrow’s incompetence, the reality is that Heathrow is a mess right now. Yes, that shouldn’t be Emirates’ problem, but…

Should airlines be on the hook for Heathrow’s issues?

Bottom line

Heathrow Airport has asked airlines to cap passenger numbers over the next couple of months, in order to ensure smooth operations. Emirates has published a statement on the situation, claiming that it doesn’t intend to comply, and calling Heathrow’s policy unacceptable.

Emirates is absolutely correct here, if you ask me, but I’m not sure that’ll be worth a whole lot in the end…

What do you make of Emirates’ response to Heathrow?

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