Are Airport Flight Limits the Future of Travel?

A number of airports are placing caps on the number of flights that can depart on a given day.

Even a year ago, the number of people who pass through an airport on a given day was presented as little other than a fun fact you’d Google  (GOOGL) – Get Alphabet Inc. Report while in line for security. For the average passenger, it was not worth thinking about.

But with Western countries almost entirely out of the pandemic, it seems like everyone is taking that put-off trip at the same time. According to data from the International Air Traffic Association, global airport traffic in May 2022 was up 83.1% from May 2021.

At the same time, over 140,000 airline and airport workers in the U.S. were either laid off or furloughed during the pandemic.

While airlines have been bringing them back in batches, most have not been doing it anywhere close to the rate needed to keep up with increased demand.

Terrible Airport Experiences Are Now The Norm

As a result, anyone who has taken a recent flight has had the chance to see the results of understaffed airports firsthand. Hundreds of flights are cancelled at almost no notice daily while airports around the world are filled with rows and rows of unclaimed baggage caused by lack of congruity.

Understaffing has also led to what, in some cases, have been airport lines of several hours just to check in. The situation got so bad at London Heathrow that airport instituted a daily 100,000-person passenger cap from July until October.

But even that was not enough as, on Aug. 2, the country’s main airline British Airways suspended all sales of short-haul flights until Aug. 8. Short-term refers to flights traveling with Great Britain or nearby destinations in Europe.

“We’ve decided to take responsible action and limit the available fares on some Heathrow services to help maximise rebooking options for existing customers, given the restrictions imposed on us and the ongoing challenges facing the entire aviation industry,” the airline said in a statement to media outlets.

So When Will Airports Get Better?

While such a move is extreme, more and more airports have been following Heathrow’s path. Later in July, Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam put in place a 67,500-person passenger cap in July before raising it briefly back in August and then saying that it will need to stay at 67,500 until September.


While American airports are yet to see similar caps, the chaos related from understaffing is certainly felt. At the start of July, Delta  (DAL) – Get Delta Air Lines Inc. Report flew an Airbus A330-200 from Heathrow to Detroit with nothing but 1,000 bags of stranded passenger baggage.

While various travel blogs are dedicating many hours to ranking the best and worst airports for avoiding delays and other problems, most travelers will be affected in some form as the situation remains the worst it’s been in years.

And as demand is so high, prices are high despite the bad experience — data from Adobe Analytics ADBE found that domestic flight in the U.S. rose by 30% since 2019 and 47% since January 2022.

“It’s going to be a ‘Hunger Games’ like battle to get the fares you want, the flights you want this summer,” Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst with Atmosphere Research Group, told NPR. “And the concern I have is that there’s absolutely no wiggle room, no flex room, in the industry if and when something goes wrong.”

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