British Airways boss Sean Doyle fires a broadside at Heathrow Airport bosses as airlines battle to get families flying again
British Airways boss Sean Doyle has fired a broadside at Heathrow Airport bosses as airlines battle to get families flying again.
Doyle appeared to criticise Heathrow’s decision to keep Terminal 4 closed until June, particularly during the recent Easter break when the airline giant was forced to cancel more than 1,500 flights.
The flag carrier’s owner International Airlines Group (IAG) on Friday posted a loss of £625million. BA’s slew of flight cancellations was partly caused by staff shortages. But Doyle also laid blame on Heathrow and questioned whether the airport was fully prepared for a sudden increase in travellers, citing ‘airport capacity constraints’ as another key challenge in the first quarter.
Signal for staff: Heathrow Airport aims to recruit 15,000 new workers
After he was asked on a call with City analysts if BA could receive compensation from Heathrow due to recent travel disruption, Doyle said it was ‘unfortunate’ Heathrow’s terminal capacity ‘isn’t ready’.
He said BA has been faced with a 25 per cent drop in check-in desks at the UK’s biggest airport at a time when passenger demand has come roaring back.
‘Heathrow is the only airport in Europe that hasn’t opened up all its terminals by the start of the summer season,’ Doyle said on the call. ‘One of the variables driving the intervention we have made has been the fact that Heathrow only has three terminals open rather than four.’
His sentiments follow barbed comments by Virgin Atlantic boss Shai Weiss last month that Heathrow made ‘cynical forecasts’ to secure ‘unjustified increases’ in airport charges.
Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye rejected the criticism when asked by The Mail on Sunday.
‘Many airlines have an equity story to tell and a share price to think about. We are trying to be realistic about what could happen,’ he said. ‘What we’ve found over the last two years is that there have been lots of forecasts for passenger numbers and we have always been seen as the most pessimistic. But even we have been over-optimistic. Our worst case scenario has always happened. You can’t just have a single plan that assumes everything will go back to normal,’ Holland-Kaye said.
Passenger demand returned months quicker than expected, he added, ‘because the Government went so quickly from having the toughest travel rules in Europe to having no rules – that means we will need even more people than we’d been planning.’
However, IAG chief executive Luis Gallego said on Friday that Heathrow’s ‘unrealistically low passenger volume forecasts’ contributed to longer queues.
He added: ‘This is despite BA publicly stating it has been aiming for a 90 per cent operation this summer since early November last year.’ Doyle added: ‘If you look at Heathrow’s latest update, they are saying 52million passengers for the year.’
This clashes, he said, with other forecasts of more than 70million. British Airways has gone to great lengths of late to rebuild its workforce after slashing 10,000 jobs during the pandemic.
Last month, it began offering £1,000 bonuses to new cabin crew and baggage handlers. The MoS can reveal BA is also offering to pay hotel and travel expenses for temporary workers.
At Heathrow, Holland-Kaye said the airport is looking to hire up to 15,000 new workers to combat staff shortages this summer.
He also downplayed concerns about travelling from the airport, with T4 set to reopen in June.
Holland-Kaye said: ‘Over Easter, on our busiest days, we had 80 per cent of our usual demand, but only 65 per cent of our people. And we still got people through security within five minutes or less.
‘Even when we don’t have enough people, we can manage things tightly enough that we can still give a good service.
‘People shouldn’t be worried about whether they can catch their flight at Heathrow this summer.’