Heathrow passengers: Airport breaks winter record with 200,000 people per day as May strike action looms

London Heathrow, the busiest airport in the UK, handled a record number of passengers in the first three months of 2024, but the threat of disruption looms with a series of planned walkouts over the next month.

Between January and March, 18.5 million passengers travelled through Heathrow – an average of 200,000 per day.

The airport said the growth came from “key business routes like Delhi and Mumbai, strong North American traffic and surging East Asian demand growing 40 per cent”.

Latin American passenger numbers increased by 20 per cent, but routes to and from Africa saw no growth.

Javier Echave, Heathrow’s chief financial officer, told The Independent: “I think that we are the best hub in Europe. We have demonstrated that at the start of this year and we have a fantastic summer ahead of us.”

The airport’s prediction for full-year passenger numbers has increased to 82.4 million, which would be a new record. In 2019, the last full year before the pandemic, Heathrow handled 80.9 million passengers. In 2023, the figure was 79 million.

Mr Echave who is due to become chief operating officer on 26 April, faces an immediate array of industrial action challenges at the airport.

More than 300 PCS union members working for UK Border Force plan to walk out from 29 April to 2 May. Fifty aircraft refuellers who are members of the Unite union will strike for 72 hours from 4 May, while Unite is also calling out firefighters and staff in airside operations, passenger services, trolley operations and campus security from Tuesday 7 May to Monday 13 May.

The Heathrow CFO said: “We believe that these strikes are absolutely unnecessary. But, look, we respect the outcome. And what I can tell you is that we are ready and reassure passengers that actually, everyone will fly and will have the best possible experience at Heathrow.

“We are ready to serve all of you without any disruption.”

Heathrow reported a £83m adjusted profit before tax for the quarter. But the airport insists that a cap on charges imposed by the Civil Aviation Authority a year ago will leave a £400m gap in its account over the next five years.

The airport’s expansion plans, including a third runway, have been on ice since the pandemic. Mr Echave declined to say when the project might be revived.

“We are reviewing the business case,” he said. “We are re-engaging with all the stakeholders. This is a complex decision, a difficult decision.

“We are very keen that we make the right decision, and that’s why it’s taking us slightly longer. Heathrow has been constrained for many years.”

The average aircraft at the airport filled three-quarters of its seats in the first three months of the year, up marginally from 74 per cent in 2023.

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