Heathrow International Airport, the busiest airport in Europe, has announced this week that it is to keep its Terminal 4 closed until the end of 2021, as the pandemic has greatly reduced the number of people traveling and visiting the airport. Here’s a closer look at why it has closed, and what this means for travelers.
Usually an extremely busy airport linking travelers to and from all corners of the globe, today’s Heathrow a shadow of its former self. With many people unable or simply refusing to travel due to the pandemic, the number of passengers passing through the airport has fallen dramatically, with November registering an 88% drop in passenger numbers year on year.
Terminal 4 first closed in May of this year, following the UK’s first period of lockdown, and has remained closed ever since. Prior to the pandemic, it was home to some of the biggest names in aviation, with carriers such as KLM, Etihad and Air France all operating out of the terminal. Following the closure, the airlines have since relocated to other terminals at Heathrow, such as terminals 2 and 5.
Opening Late 2021
The decision to close the terminal for such an extended period of time offers a glimpse at the sobering reality of the pandemic, and the tremendous impact it has had and will have on the travel industry. The decision was made after assessing the current number of passengers coming through the terminal and forecasts for recovery made by the airport.
According to Rolls-Royce, makers of commercial engines for planes, the number of flying hours recorded on its large jet engines this year only amounted to 42% of the figure recorded in the same period last year. Coupled with a year on year drop of passengers to only 747,000, it seems there’s little reason to keep all terminals operational as there is little demand for it, and little sign of the situation improving significantly in the short term. As well as closing the terminal, Heathrow has had to put its investments on hold, and has appealed to the British government for more support as it battles to protect its employees again job losses.
As well as having to struggle with a significant reduction in passengers, Heathrow has also been battling against the British government’s proposed “tourist tax”.
From January 1st, the UK will end duty-free shopping for international travelers and cut the VAT refund scheme. According to the airport, this will have a hugely detrimental effect on not just airports, where 2,000 retail job losses are expected in Heathrow alone, but on other tourist-related industries, such as restaurants, hotels and theatres.
Impact on Travelers
When an airport closes a terminal, it is bound to have a significant impact on travelers. On top of the potential for turning up at the wrong terminal, it also spells out that in future many different routes may suffer, with fewer flights per day operational as more airlines compete for fewer facilities than they are used to. Should the number of travelers pick up, it could also lead to congestion in the terminal and longer waits, with the dreaded prospect of delayed flights a possibility.
The decision to end the duty-free shopping and VAT refund is certain to make the UK a more expensive and less-attractive proposition for foreign travelers, and might see tourist numbers fall.
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