Frankfurt has overtaken London’s Heathrow as the busiest airport in Europe, prompting the chief of British Airways to demand the Government rapidly sets up a testing programme to win back customers.
Heathrow said that its passenger numbers were down by more than 80 per cent in August to 1.4 million, allowing its key German continental rival to overtake, according to the British airport. It said it was an “early warning that Britain’s economy will fall behind if we don’t protect our global trading network”.
Long haul markets remained sharply down because of the UK government’s 14-day quarantine policy from travel for destinations including Portugal and the United States. The move has hit British Airways hard. It flies to more than 100 countries, many of them affected by travel restrictions.
The airline’s chief executive Alex Cruz told MPs on Wednesday that it was at 20 per cent of capacity during July and said the crisis outstripped the worst days of the 2007/08 financial crash and the plunge in passenger numbers after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
“Covid-19 has devastated our business and our sector and we are still fighting for our own survival,” he said.
He has urged the government to set up a scheme between London and New York to test passengers as they travel and five days later to ensure they remain virus-free.
“It’s incredibly important that we reach a testing regime of some sort as quickly as possible so we can reduce that quarantine time to the minimum possible,” he said.
The airline has come under fire for cutting 12,000 jobs and changing the terms and conditions of its staff. Mr Cruz said the airline was taking every “measure possible to make sure that we can actually make it through this winter”.
“We do not see a short-term coming back of our passengers,” he told MPs on the transport committee.
Heathrow has complained that more than 30 airports, including Frankfurt, are already using testing as a safe alternative to a 14-day quarantine.
Its chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, said that Britain’s economic recovery was falling behind because of the impact on international travel.
“The Government has announced it is looking at the options for reducing quarantine for passengers who test negative for Covid-19 but ministers urgently need to turn words into action. Every day of further Government delay costs British jobs and livelihoods.”