People queuing at Terminal 2 in HeathrowImage source, Reuters

British Airways has halted sales of tickets on short-haul flights from Heathrow Airport until 8 August as disruption to air travel continues.

The move is due to the cap on daily passenger numbers that the UK’s largest airport has imposed over the summer.

The sales suspension will affect BA’s flights to domestic and European destinations.

Thousands of air travellers have been hit by disruption in recent weeks, including last-minute cancellations.

Airports and airlines, which cut jobs during Covid lockdowns, have found it difficult to recruit enough staff as demand for holidays has returned.

Heathrow Airport has struggled to cope with the rebound in air travel and problems with its baggage handling systems have also led to passengers seeing huge delays in reclaiming their luggage.

Last month, Heathrow told airlines to stop selling summer tickets, as it said it would limit the number of passengers departing each day to 100,000 – 4,000 fewer than previously scheduled.

The cap on numbers is set to remain in place until 11 September.

As BA is the largest airline at Heathrow it is affected by the limit more than other carriers.

In a statement, BA said: “As a result of Heathrow’s request to limit new bookings, 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.”

Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of travel agent industry body Advantage Travel Partnership, told the BBC the move was “positive news” for consumers.

“The whole idea is that you allow space on flights for anybody that is on a flight that has been disrupted – it enables [BA] to scale up,” she said.

“In one sense it sounds quite counter-intuitive that an airline would be reducing seats at its peak period but it’s absolutely all about building resilience, making sure there’s less disruption, ensuring that those people that have booked… that there’ll be less risk to those flights being disrupted.”

Stopping selling some tickets from Britain’s biggest airport in the lucrative summer peak, when demand is strong, is not something you’d normally expect an airline to be doing.

But this isn’t a normal summer.

The decision follows Heathrow’s extraordinary decision to limit traffic to a level the system can cope with, given ongoing resourcing challenges.

It’s understood British Airways was close to reaching the number of passengers it could carry under that cap this week.

The decision is meant to prevent last-minute bookings. And it should leave some leeway in the system for where rebooking is needed.

This isn’t about cancellations – existing bookings aren’t affected.

But it will limit passengers’ last-minute options at a time when capacity has been squeezed and many prices have risen.

It’s not clear yet whether more ticket suspensions could follow.

BA has cut nearly 30,000 flights from its April-to-October schedule in response to staffing problems.

On Friday, BA owner IAG reported its first profit since the beginning of the Covid pandemic, despite facing what it called a “challenging” environment at Heathrow Airport.

The company said the problems at Heathrow had forced British Airways to limit its capacity to 69.1% of pre-pandemic levels between April and June, and this was expected to increase to about 75% between July and October.

A row broke out last week between Ryanair and Heathrow, after the airline said airports had not recruited enough staff to cater for the rebound in travellers, saying they “had one job to do”.

But Heathrow hit back at the criticism, describing it as “bizarre”.

“Airports don’t provide ground handling, that’s provided by the airlines themselves. So this is like accusing us of not having enough pilots,” said Heathrow’s chief executive John Holland-Kaye.

Virgin Atlantic also criticised the airport, claiming it was responsible for failures which were contributing to the chaos.

Emirates Airlines had initially rejected Heathrow’s request to cut flight capacity but later agreed to cap sales following talks between the two companies.

Last month the Competition and Markets Authority and Civil Aviation Authority issued a joint letter to carriers raising concerns that “consumers could experience significant harm unless airlines meet their obligations”.

The letter said there were concerns some airlines may not be doing everything they could to avoid harmful practices, including selling more tickets for flights than they could reasonably expect to supply.

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