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London Heathrow Needs 12,500 More Staff to Cope With Peak Periods


LONDON—Heathrow Airport said businesses operating at the international hub need to train and recruit about 12,500 additional staff to meet demand during peak-travel periods and to avoid the travel chaos seen in recent months.

The airport, Europe’s biggest before the Covid-19 pandemic, said it is establishing a recruitment task force to fill the vacancies and avoid the delays and long lines that disrupted passengers during the summer. One of the biggest challenges in that recruitment drive, it said: New hires need to undergo time-consuming background checks to gain access to part of the airport normally restricted to staff and passengers.

The airport said a key aim of the task force will be to review its ground-handling operation, which Heathrow has consistently flagged as facing critical shortages that led to much of the travel disruption.

Before the pandemic, about 400 businesses, including retailers, airlines and ground handlers, employed some 75,000 staff across the airport. About 25,000 jobs were lost during the pandemic. Recruitment drives so far this year have brought back about half of those, according to Heathrow, which itself employs about 10% of staff at the hub.

In a sign that some of the pressure from the summer flying season is easing, Heathrow said it would lift a daily cap on departing passenger numbers this weekend, a move first reported by The Wall Street Journal. The restrictions were introduced in July to try to stem overcapacity at the hub and led to airlines canceling flights and halting some ticket sales.

In place of the blanket cap, the airport said it is working with airlines on “a highly targeted mechanism” that would allow it to limit capacity on specific peak days if necessary, in particular in the lead up to Christmas. If deployed, the mechanism would encourage airlines to shift some flights to less-busy days and prevent overcrowding, Heathrow said.

Heathrow also said Wednesday it expects new drags on demand from the economic repercussions of the war in Ukraine and today’s high inflation. Those factors could keep passenger numbers from recovering to prepandemic levels—outside of peak times—for years to come.

About 18 million passengers traveled through the airport’s terminals during the summer, more than any other European hub, Heathrow said. Its current forecast for the full year is for between 60 million and 62 million customers, about 75% of the passenger number served in 2019.

Heathrow, along with the biggest hub airports in Europe, has been among the worst hit by the rapid recovery in flying this year, with passengers experiencing check-in lines that routinely stretched out of terminal doors, piles of unclaimed luggage, delays and last minute cancellations.

The aviation industry, in particular airports, was caught off guard by the quicker-than-expected recovery. After shedding thousands of jobs during the height of the pandemic, it has scrambled to rebuild operations to meet new demand.

Write to Benjamin Katz at [email protected]

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