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12 August 2021

Heathrow Passenger Numbers Return to Pre-Pandemic Levels

With the UK’s COVID-19 restrictions continuing to ease, London’s Heathrow Airport has reported the highest number of passengers passing through since March 2020.

In figures released this week, the airport revealed that, as a result of England’s lockdown easing in July, passenger numbers surged by 74% compared with July 2020, marking the first step on what the airport’s operator has described as the “long road to recovery.”

The international travel industry has been crippled since the pandemic began as many countries tightened their border controls in a bid to prevent the spread of Coronavirus.

Over the course of the summer, consumer confidence in international travel has risen, while the continued rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in the UK and changing international guidelines are making quarantine-free overseas travel accessible once again. According to Heathrow, 1.5 million passengers passed through the airport in July 2021, the highest number since the pandemic began.

“The relaxation in rules has provided a much-needed boost to the UK travel industry, and enabled people across Britain to look forward to a more normal summer reuniting with family and friends abroad,” a statement from the airport read.

As the UK vaccination rollout continues, the government is reviewing its international travel guidelines with a number of destinations changing in classification depending on the prevalence of COVID-19.

From 2nd August, fully vaccinated travellers from the United States and the European Union were able to travel to the UK without needing to quarantine on arrival. Even prior to this announcement, North American passenger numbers had grown by nearly 230% year-on-year, with New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport reclaiming its status as Heathrow’s most popular destination.

Despite the agreement that US passengers would not need to quarantine upon arrival in the UK, Heathrow stated that “the joint UK/US travel taskforce must capitalise on the UK’s world-leading vaccine rollout and reach a reciprocal agreement for fully vaccinated UK travellers.”

Although increasing demand and growing consumer confidence in international travel are positive signs for the industry, Heathrow notes that passenger numbers are still down by more than 80% on the pre-pandemic levels of July 2019 as barriers to travel remain. Access to affordable private COVID-19 testing is still one key barrier for many passengers, the airport noted, with UK prices considerably higher than those on offer in many European countries.

Emma Gilthorpe, Chief Operating Officer at Heathrow airport, said: “Finally, some blue skies are on the horizon, as travel and trade routes slowly reopen. The job though is far from complete. Government must now capitalise on the vaccine dividend and seize the opportunity to replace expensive PCR tests with more affordable lateral flow tests. This will ensure travel remains attainable for hardworking Brits, desperate for well-earned getaways and keen to reunite with loved ones before the summer travel window closes.”
Heathrow Passenger Numbers Return to Pre-Pandemic Levels
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