BA extends ban on short-haul bookings as travel chaos continues

BBritish Airways has halted short-haul bookings from Heathrow for another week, amid warnings they could be halted for the rest of the summer.

The carrier warned on Monday that it would stop taking new bookings for domestic and Western European flights until August 8. On Tuesday, that was extended, blocking new bookings on flights before August 16.

Long-haul routes could be disrupted next, insiders have warned, as Heathrow Airport’s cap on passenger numbers at 100,000 a day forces airlines to withhold tickets and fly planes with thousands of empty seats.

BA said blocking new short-haul bookings would allow it to comply with Heathrow’s passenger cap which had been “imposed” on airlines.

It is understood that the airline is constantly monitoring passenger numbers and that long-haul routes could also be subject to ticket reductions.

A source said the airline also had to keep seats free on some flights to have the capacity to deal with other unforeseen cancellations and disruptions.

The halt in ticket sales caused ticket prices to spike over the next fortnight as the supply of short-haul fares fell.

Holidaymakers looking for a last-minute getaway have faced fare hikes, with the average price from Heathrow to Europe on some routes already surging, according to data from Google Flights.

Passengers looking to pay less were invited from another airport to avoid soaring fares.

Guy Hobbs, editor of Which? Travel said: “With further possible ticket sales suspensions, people should consider booking as early as possible to avoid last minute disappointment and inflated fares. They should also consider other airports and airlines where possible.

“Airports and airlines must be held accountable for the unacceptable disruption currently facing travellers, and the government must act to ensure the Civil Aviation Authority has the power to impose substantial fines on operators in cases where they flout the rules.”

The disruption is feared to last for the rest of the summer, hitting those hoping for a last-minute cheap getaway over the August bank holiday weekend.

Rob Burgess, editor of loyalty website headforpoint.com, said: “As Heathrow’s capacity cap will exist until at least September 11 – and we believe it will be pushed further – it seems likely that BA will have to maintain capacity caps in place until the end of the school holidays, given the upcoming public holiday at the end of August. “I therefore expect the blocking of sales to continue, at least until Monday August 29, the public holiday, as BA has already exceeded its daily passenger cap on many dates based on existing ticket sales. “

Mr Burgess said the changes would not affect those who had already booked tickets, except those who might be looking to arrange a last-minute connecting flight. He added: “The real losers are people who expect to get a last minute cheap break in August – that’s not happening – or those who may need to fly at short notice for personal reasons.”

John Strickland, an airline analyst, however, said the impact on fares would only be “marginal”.

Analysts have suggested the decision would cost British Airways some of its short-haul market share as rivals such as Jet2 and Ryanair, which largely operate from other airports, would not have to cancel flights.

However, according to Alexander Paterson, an analyst at Peel Hunt, the financial hit for BA will be limited as the increase in fares will “largely mitigate” the drop in capacity. Short-haul is the least profitable type of flight, he said.

“Still, it’s something when BA has to suspend sales and cancel flights because Heathrow doesn’t have the resources to be able to handle even 104,000 passengers a day in the summer,” he added.

Heathrow said earlier this summer it would cap passenger numbers at 100,000 a day until September 11, forcing airlines to cancel 1,000 flights. The airport said a lack of ground staff and overbooking by airlines led to huge delays and last-minute cancellations.

Airlines reacted furiously. Gulf carrier Emirates accused Heathrow of choosing “not to plan, not to invest” in capacity, while Ryanair also attacked planning at the airport. Airport workers’ union Unite, meanwhile, accused Heathrow on Tuesday of “cutting staff to the bone”. Heathrow, however, hit back at what it called “bizarre” criticism, arguing that airlines are responsible for providing ground staff.

John Grant, airline analyst at OAG, said British Airways would fly around 20,000 empty seats a day following the decision to halt sales.

Mr Grant said: ‘Take a low average fare for this time of year of £100 each way and that’s at least £12.5million in revenue, probably more because there will be passengers who reportedly booked long-haul flights off the back of a short-haul connecting service and they are now gone as well.

A British Airways spokesperson said: “We have taken pre-emptive action to reduce our schedule this summer to give customers certainty about their travel plans and build resilience in our operations given the ongoing challenges facing faced by the entire aeronautical industry.

“When Heathrow introduced its passenger cap, we removed a small number of additional flights from our schedule and to continue to meet the cap, we took responsible action by limiting sales or all fares available on some of our services. from Heathrow to ensure that more seats are available to rebook customers.

“We will continue to manage bookings to meet the cap imposed by Heathrow so that we can depart our customers as planned this summer.”

A Heathrow spokesperson said: “Acting in the best interest of passengers, we have introduced a cap on the number of departures at Heathrow to provide better and more reliable journeys this summer. We are delighted to see the action of British Airways, acting responsibly and also putting the passenger first.