Richard Branson urges Heathrow not to limit Christmas flights | Air industry

Delta Air Lines hailed “unprecedented” demand for transatlantic travel to the UK, while its Virgin Atlantic co-owner Sir Richard Branson warned he would be “really pissed off” if Heathrow imposed new capacity restrictions at Christmas.

The strong dollar and the end of Covid restrictions will fuel inbound travel for three years, but capacity at Britain’s biggest airport remains a concern, Virgin owners say.

Ed Bastian, chief executive of Delta, which owns 49% of Virgin Atlantic, said: ‘The travel demand, because it hasn’t been available for so long, is unlike anything we’ve ever seen, and it Do not stop.

“The level of demand in the UK is truly unprecedented… We have so many Americans across all demographics who have not been able to travel for three years: baby boomers with a to-do list, companies that need to find colleagues.

“There is no way to satisfy that within six to nine months, it will take two to three years. Then you couple that with the dollar [strength]. In Europe, you only see Americans.

“London is on sale. I was there a few weeks ago and was struggling to keep my partner out of the shops.

Transatlantic flights now make up around 60-70% of Virgin’s route network and are also the most lucrative source of revenue for carriers such as British Airways.

The rebound in international travel in 2022 has exceeded Heathrow’s forecast, and a boom in American tourists has played a significant role in restoring its place as Europe’s busiest hub, despite the leveling off in passenger numbers in summer.

Heathrow angered many airlines, particularly Emirates, when it imposed a daily limit on 100,000 departing passengers to avoid last-minute cancellations or delays at the airport, after chaotic scenes at peak periods. peak earlier in the year.

The cap has been lifted, but Heathrow has said it may need to impose a mechanism on Christmas resynchronization flights to handle the holiday rush. He said the move was largely necessary because airlines had not recruited enough ground handling staff.

However, Branson dismissed this claim. He told the Guardian: “I would be extremely upset if [Heathrow] did not act together before Christmas. They’ve had plenty of time to sort themselves out – I’d be really pissed off if there were any capacity cuts.

“We don’t have any staffing issues; we are complete and have been for some time. There are a lot of people who want to come and work for a decent company, and they have to attract people.

Bastian and Branson were talking after the inaugural flight of Virgin Atlantic’s daily service to Tampa International from London Heathrow, which the Guardian traveled on. The new service, which begins commercially on Thursday, will mean Virgin will operate up to seven daily flights to Florida airports alone during the summer.

The Guardian’s trip to Tampa was paid for by Virgin Atlantic

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