Airline said any customers impacted “will receive direct communication in the coming days”
Passengers who regularly travel on flight EI174 from Dublin to Heathrow have learned what to expect by now.
Taking off at 3.55pm every day, EI174 is not regarded as a prime-time flight.
Therein lies a problem for passengers.
Since the beginning of the busy travel season, Aer Lingus – the fourth-biggest operator at Heathrow after British Airways (BA), Virgin and American – has been repeatedly asked by the London airport to curtail the number of flights it operates. When the airline weighs up its options, mid-afternoon flights are the most likely to go.
This means passengers who booked an afternoon flight, such as EI174, may have to take a morning flight instead.
Aer Lingus is not alone; even more valuable fights have been sacrificed in the great game of Heathrow roulette in recent weeks.
Passenger numbers affected by these eve-of-departure cancellations are not large, but they do add up in summer.
Heathrow has now asked airlines to cancel more flights. On Monday, the airport capped departing passengers at 100,000 a day.
Heathrow said airline seats already sold were only about 4,000 over that number – implying that finding 4,000 alternative routes for disgruntled passengers would be easy
Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said in a statement: “By making this intervention now, our objective is to protect flights for the vast majority of passengers and to give confidence that everyone who does travel through the airport will have a safe and reliable journey.”
Our objective is to protect flights for the vast majority of passengers’
Dublin Airport also looked at the option of capping flight departures to relieve pressure on security queues, but ruled it out in favour of other measures.
The capping option is useful only if overall security and service staff numbers are far short of what is required.
Because a passenger cap has to be communicated in advance, it is not a solution for a short-term staffing shortage, which has been Dublin Airport’s problem on the weekends in March and last month when there was queueing chaos.
Dublin Airport also calculated that 30 extra security staff a week would give the airport enough wriggle room to see it through the crisis.
There are now more than 700 in the security team, up from 550 in March.
More are due to join the team, giving the airport more security personnel than it had pre-Covid.
Heathrow’s decision to cap flights is just the latest play in a game of slash-the-schedule.
This week, there are 16 daily rotations between Dublin and Heathrow – 12 from Aer Lingus and four from BA.
Pre-Covid, there were 21 daily rotations, 14 from Aer Lingus and seven from BA.
Early last month, BA cut its schedule to anticipate its own roster-go-round difficulties, created by Covid. Aer Lingus also trimmed its schedule before it ran into Covid cancellations of its own.
Now both airlines have been asked to cut flights further – not without complications when about 70pc of Heathrow passengers are connecting with other destinations.
Passengers affected by transatlantic cancellations in Dublin or by other issues, such as the current SAS pilots strike, are currently being re-routed through Heathrow.
Six months ago, Heathrow was predicting passenger numbers of 45.5 million for the year. It revised that up to 52.2m in April. The airport’s latest forecast is 54.4m passengers, or 67pc of pre-pandemic levels. It decided not to reopen its T4.
BA’s Cork-born CEO Sean Doyle said last month: “Already, their numbers are wrong by about 30pc.
“If you look at any scheduled forecast for Heathrow, you’re looking at passenger numbers which will be north of 70m.”
Aer Lingus issued a statement saying it noted the announcement from Heathrow and is currently awaiting further direction.
“Customers impacted will receive direct communication from Aer Lingus in the coming days,” the airline said.
Passengers have alternatives. There are 11 daily rotations from Dublin to Gatwick, a mix of Aer Lingus and Ryanair (there were 18 pre-pandemic). There are seven flights to Stansted, all Ryanair.
There are also alternative hubs: 12 rotations a day to Amsterdam, seven to Paris Charles De Gaulle, six to Frankfurt and five to Madrid.
Heathrow’s biggest asset is its convenience. If you miss a connection home to Ireland, there is always another flight departing about an hour later.
At least, that was, until Heathrow forgot how to count.