Heathrow loses title as busiest airport in Europe

Oct 28, 2020

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London’s Heathrow Airport is no longer the busiest in Europe.

France’s Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) has taken the top spot with 19.3 million passengers travelling through between January and September 2020, compared to London Heathrow’s 19 million. According to a press release from Heathrow, both Amsterdam Schiphol (AMS) and Frankfurt (FRA) finished “close behind.”

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Though it may not come as a shock, the announcement highlights the extent to which U.K. aviation is recovering slower than elsewhere on the continent.

As well as the second wave of the coronavirus making its way around the rest of the world, the main reason for the slow recovery in passenger numbers in the U.K. is down to a lack of airport testing, according to John Holland-Kaye, CEO of Heathrow.

“Britain is falling behind because we’ve been too slow to embrace passenger testing,” said Holland-Kaye.

The situation could improve slightly before the end of the year if the U.K. government’s talk of post-arrival testing at U.K. airports comes to fruition by way of the Global Travel Taskforce. A testing option would mean that passengers arriving in the U.K. would have to quarantine for less than the current 14 days — even if they arrive from non-travel corridor countries.

Related: Countries and territories you can visit from England without quarantining on either end

The best-case scenario for airlines and passengers alike would be the elimination of quarantining for those who test negative on arrival — a procedure that some other countries around the world have introduced in some capacity.

Pre-departure testing would be needed, too, said Holland-Kaye. The option has already started at Heathrow and is available for passengers flying to Italy and Hong Kong.

“Bringing in pre-departure COVID test and partnering with our U.S. allies to open a pilot airbridge to America will kickstart our economic recovery and put the U.K. back ahead of our European rivals,” Holland-Kaye said.

Related: All countries, territories and regions that are on England’s travel corridor list

The pandemic has taken a previously unimaginable toll on airports and airlines across the world. Heathrow’s passenger forecast made in June has been reduced from 29.2 million in 2020 and 62.8 million in 2021, to 22.6 million and 37.1 million, respectively — less than half of the 80.8 million passengers who travelled through the U.K.’s largest airport in 2019.

British Airways, the U.K. flag carrier and typically the largest airline at Heathrow has been hit hard by COVID. In July, the airline reported a £3.8 billion first-half loss and just recently, the airline’s CEO stepped down from his role.

Featured image by Andrew Holt/Getty Images.

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