Heathrow Airport has been accused of trying to maximise profits during a difficult travel period at the expense of airlines.
The claim comes from the former boss of BA owner IAG, Willie Walsh, who is now director general of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) – a body representing global airlines.
He was speaking after the airport told airlines to stop selling summer tickets, and after it imposed a new daily limit of 100,000 passengers – a cut of 4,000 passengers a day – until 11 September.
Heathrow said this was so it could keep service at an acceptable level as it struggles to deal with staff shortages and recruitment hold-ups.
But Mr Walsh said the UK’s busiest airport had under-estimated the speed of the recovery and was concentrating on its own profits while forcing airlines to pick up the cost.
He told Reuters: “To tell airlines to stop selling – what a ridiculous thing for an airport to say to an airline.
“Heathrow are trying to maximise the profitability that they get from the airport at the expense of airlines.”
He admitted that the passenger caps would at least give airlines and passengers an opportunity to plan ahead, but added: “I am surprised Heathrow have not been able to get their act together better than this.
“Airlines have been predicting stronger traffic than Heathrow has been predicting… they clearly got it completely wrong.”
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“The cynic in me would say that that was playing to their game of trying to fool the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) when it came to economic regulation, playing down the number of passengers.
“For some time, airlines have felt they have been gaming the system and trying to convince the CAA to look at lower passenger forecasts and drive up the average passenger charge to Heathrow’s advantage.”
But Heathrow denied this, with a spokesperson saying: “Aviation is under considerable pressure as demand ramps up – at Heathrow we’ve faced 40 years of growth in just four months and what we need is collaborative working and investment in services to protect passengers, not ill-informed comments from retired airline bosses.”
Heathrow is not the only airport to experience difficulties, as the entire sector struggles to cope with peak season demand after two years of coronavirus pandemic-related turbulence.
IATA estimates that demand for air travel fell to just 3% of normal levels in early 2020, the first months of the coronavirus pandemic.