600,000 passengers dropped plans to fly from Heathrow in December

‘Omicron was the Scrooge which cancelled Christmas’: 600,000 passengers dropped plans to fly from Heathrow in December due to Covid fears and travel restrictions as analysts say ‘mass vaccination programmes failed to help travel industry recover’

  • At least 600,000 passengers cancelled plans to fly from Heathrow in December
  • A total of 19.4 million people travelled through Heathrow last year
  • That figure is less than a quarter of the pre-pandemic level in 2019 
  • Market analyst said Omicron had been ‘the Scrooge which cancelled Christmas’ with ‘ onerous testing requirements leading to a mass exodus from airports’

At least 600,000 passengers cancelled plans to fly from Heathrow in December amid tougher travel restrictions and the Omicron variant becoming the ‘Scrooge which cancelled Christmas’.   

Fears over the Covid variant meant that, from late November, all travellers arriving in the UK were required to take a lateral flow test before flying and self-isolate until they received a negative result from a post-arrival PCR test.

This led to many people scrapping their travel plans over the festive period – which is typically one of the busiest times of the year outside summer for international travel from Britain.

A total of 19.4 million people travelled through Heathrow across the whole of last year – less than a quarter of the pre-pandemic level in 2019, and 12.3% down on 2020. 

Susannah Streeter, senior investment and markets analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said Omicron had been ‘the Scrooge which cancelled Christmas’ with ‘onerous testing requirements leading to a mass exodus from airports’.

And Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said: ‘There are currently travel restrictions, such as testing, on all Heathrow routes. 

‘The aviation industry will only fully recover when these are all lifted and there is no risk that they will be reimposed at short notice, a situation which is likely to be years away.’ 

A total of 19.4 million people travelled through Heathrow across the whole of last year – less than a quarter of the pre-pandemic level in 2019, and 12.3% down on 2020 (pictured: Heathrow on December 24) 

Susannah Streeter, senior investment and markets analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said Omicron had been ‘the Scrooge which cancelled Christmas’ with ‘ onerous testing requirements leading to a mass exodus from airports’

Several overseas destinations – including France and Germany – had brought in their own restrictions late last year, effectively rendering the possibility of a holiday within their territory impossible amid the outbreak of Omicron. 

Ms Streeter added: ‘Mass vaccination programmes failed to have the desired effect in 2021, in bringing the rebound in travel there had been such high hopes for this time last year.

‘The web of rules and regulations which was spun across different countries and regions and swept away, and then spun again as new variants emerged, clearly led to a drop in confidence in the travelling public. 

‘The threat of expensive hotel quarantines following a rapid rule change and the risk of being left stranded overseas if testing positive were hardly a relaxing prospect for holidaymakers wanting to get away from it all. 

‘It means there was a lacklustre uplift in customers of 12% compared to 2020, and for 2021 as a whole Heathrow handled just 19.4 million passengers – less than one quarter of pre-pandemic levels.’

Ms Streeter added there was ‘little surprise’ that Heathrow is now calling for scrapping all tests for fully vaccinated passengers in favour of a ‘predictable playbook to go by, in the even of fresh variants’.  

‘The spring summer season is set to get warmer for Heathrow in terms of business, but it’s unlikely to be the scorcher the travel industry, and the retail and hospitality businesses which rely on transport hubs, sorely need,’ she said.  

One week before Christmas Germany’s health announced that Britain had been added to its list of Covid high-risk countries as a ‘virus variant area’, meaning airlines were banned from transporting British tourists to the country.

Only German citizens and residents, their partners and children, and transit passengers were allowed to travel to the country from the UK, and even then, anyone entering would need a negative PCR test and would have to quarantine for 14 days, regardless of vaccination status.

When the rules were introduced on December 18, there had been more than 65,000 new Covid cases confirmed in London alone over the previous seven days, with 26,418 cases reported within 24 hours – the highest number since the start of the pandemic.

France brought in similar restrictions, demanding British travellers have a ‘compelling reason’ to enter the country – which did not include tourism or business.

The United Kingdom had reported 90,418 new COVID-19 cases on December 18 and 125 deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test.

Cases were up 44.4% over the seven days leading to December 18 compared with the previous week, but deaths, which typically lag changes in case numbers, were down by nearly 6% over the same period.

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