Heathrow London airport suffered a drastic drop in passenger traffic in 2021, recording figures below those of 2020. According to figures published by the Civil Aviation Authority, the last time the airport registered so few travellers was in 1972. In that year, 18.3 million people used the airport.
Concrete figures show that only around 19.4 million passenger crossed Heathrow Airport in 2021, 76% down compared to 2019 — a stark contrast with 2020, when 22.1 million passengers passed through Heathrow, thanks largely to a fairly normal January and February in that year.
1. Omicron and sanitary measures
Heathrow’s management said it hoped for a relatively successful December 2021. However, the appearance of the Omicron variant, and the travel restrictions imposed in the UK and beyond, caused an estimated 20,000 cancellations per day last month. Overall, at least 600,000 passengers changed their plans to fly from Heathrow Airport in that month.
At the end of November, UK ministers insisted that PCR tests should be coupled with self-isolation for all arriving travellers. A flight ban on South Africa and the reinstatement of the “red list” and hotel quarantine were also imposed. Shortly after that, the government brought back pre-departure tests. The airport has called for more predictability and to remove all testing for fully vaccinated travellers.
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.John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow chief executive
Heathrow insisted that only passengers coming from high-risk destinations should face restrictions, and they should be allowed to quarantine at home instead of in a hotel.
2. Most affected regions
Heathrow said that travel to and from the Asia-Pacific region in 2021 was particularly badly hit, down 40.3% from a year earlier. The other regions with double-digit reductions were non-EU Europe markets, down 13.8%, and North America, down 13.6%. Domestic travel trumped the trend, with a 21.1% boost in air passengers compared with 2020.