Inside 2 of the UK’s eerily empty airports

Apr 21, 2020

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Airlines aren’t the only part of the aviation world that have been affected as a result of the ongoing coronavirus crisis. In fact, airports around the world have largely suffered, too.

Some have taken on a new role of being a plane park. Bournemouth Airport (BOU), for example, has largely turned into a plane park for British Airways’ Boeing 747s and some narrow-body aircraft. Some airports have even turned into temporary mortuaries. For example, Birmingham Aiport (BHX) has launched as a temporary facility to accommodate the deceased from across the region.

Related: Where is British Airways parking its planes during the coronavirus outbreak?

With drastically cut passenger operations, the U.K.’s two largest airports — Heathrow and Gatwick — have turned into practically empty buildings. The terminals’ hallways that are typically bustling with travellers, wheeling suitcases behind them with smiles on their faces, have largely been replaced by empty abysses for as far as the eye can see.

London Heathrow Airport

The U.K.’s largest airport, London Heathrow, hasn’t been exempt from the decreased demand in air travel.

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 15: A view inside a quiet Terminal 5 departure lounge at Heathrow Airport on April 15, 2020 in London, United Kingdom. The airport expects 90% fewer passengers compared to April last year, as governments continue to advise against non-essential travel due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Heathrow has prioritised cargo traffic and closed one of its two runways. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
(Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

The airport closed one of its two runways, as passenger operations have nearly completely stalled.

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 15: A passenger waits for the transit train in Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport on April 15, 2020 in London, United Kingdom. The airport expects 90% fewer passengers compared to April last year, as governments continue to advise against non-essential travel due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Heathrow has prioritised cargo traffic and closed one of its two runways. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
(Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

It’s also consolidated all remaining passenger operations to two of its terminals — Terminal 2 and 5 — while Terminals 3 and 4 have been temporarily closed.

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 15: A view inside a quiet Terminal 5 departure lounge at Heathrow Airport on April 15, 2020 in London, United Kingdom. The airport expects 90% fewer passengers compared to April last year, as governments continue to advise against non-essential travel due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Heathrow has prioritised cargo traffic and closed one of its two runways. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
(Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Earlier this month, London Heathrow said that it expects April passenger operations to, from or through the airport to plunge by 90% compared to levels from the year prior.

While the reduction in passenger traffic is evident now, Heathrow warns that the coronavirus will have “lasting and significant industry-wide effects” on demand even once restrictions have been lifted.

(Photo by James Longman for The Points Guy)
(Photo by James Longman for The Points Guy)

While the airport is nearly empty for passengers, with lounges and shops closed, cargo operations have accelerated.

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 15: Passengers in a quiet Terminal 5 departure lounge at Heathrow Airport on April 15, 2020 in London, United Kingdom. The airport expects 90% fewer passengers compared to April last year, as governments continue to advise against non-essential travel due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Heathrow has prioritised cargo traffic and closed one of its two runways. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
(Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

On 31 March, Heathrow saw its busiest day for cargo-only flights. Throughout the day, the airport saw 38 dedicated cargo movements. In normal operations, the airport handles an average of 47 cargo-only flights per week.

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 15: A quiet Terminal 5 departure hall at Heathrow Airport on April 15, 2020 in London, United Kingdom. The airport expects 90% fewer passengers compared to April last year, as governments continue to advise against non-essential travel due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Heathrow has prioritised cargo traffic and closed one of its two runways. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
(Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

The airport said that it’s prioritising cargo flights that are carrying medical supplies. Some repatriation flights are still operating to the airport to bring Britons home.

London Gatwick Airport

To the south of London, London Gatwick Airport is similarly empty.

GATWICK, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 09: An empty Gatwick south terminal is seen on April 09, 2020 in Gatwick, United Kingdom. There have been around 60,000 reported cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus in the United Kingdom and 7,000 deaths. The country is in its third week of lockdown measures aimed at slowing the spread of the virus. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

At the end of March, British Airways announced that it was temporarily leaving London Gatwick Airport and closing its base. All of BA’s flights that operated out of LGW had been relocated to Heathrow.

GATWICK, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 09: An empty Gatwick south terminal is seen on April 09, 2020 in Gatwick, United Kingdom. There have been around 60,000 reported cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus in the United Kingdom and 7,000 deaths. The country is in its third week of lockdown measures aimed at slowing the spread of the virus. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

The news of BA leaving Gatwick came days after London Gatwick announced that it was temporarily closing its North Terminal. Airlines that typically operate out of Gatwick North Terminal were consolidated into the South Terminal.

GATWICK, ENGLAND - MARCH 31: Scheduled to close on April 01, the Gatwick North terminal appears deserted on March 31, 2020 in Gatwick, England. The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has spread to many countries across the world, claiming over 30,000 lives and infecting hundreds of thousands more. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

The coronavirus crisis has left the U.K.’s two largest airports to largely resemble ghost towns. Some other airports around the country and around the globe have taken on new roles. Hopefully, for those most affected by the global downturn in passenger demand, these scenes are only temporary — though it may take years for traffic numbers to reach their pre-coronavirus levels.

Featured photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images.

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