The UAE flag carrier’s relationship with the UK’s busiest airport has become somewhat tense in recent months.
The summer of 2022 represented an exciting opportunity for the airline industry to bounce back from the two previous years of coronavirus-induced restricted travel. However, at airports like London Heathrow (LHR), inadequate preparation in terms of staffing led to extensive disruptions and capacity caps. Emirates President Sir Tim Clark, a carrier deeply affected by the crisis, has now suggested that Heathrow's CEO should resign.
The spark that ignited the fire in terms of Clark's latest comments appears to have been the suggestion that Heathrow's capacity caps may return at a later date. Indeed, as it stands, these daily limits, imposed to combat disruption caused by factors such as understaffing, are set to be lifted just before the end of the month.
This should have been a welcome relief for Sir Tim Clark, given Emirates' reliance on Heathrow as a destination from its Dubai International (DXB) hub. However, according to the Sunday Times, the airport's CEO, John Holland-Kaye, has suggested that the cap may return later in the year in order to prevent disruption over the Christmas period. This seems to have been the last straw for Clark, who stated:
"That’s inexcusable. Anybody who says anything like that is the wrong guy for the job."
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According to The Independent, Clark is far from the only leader to have taken a swipe at Heathrow over the airport's underestimation of post-pandemic travel demand. Indeed, IATA Director General and ex-IAG and British Airways CEO Willie Walsh also reportedly described Heathrow's performance in recent months as 'a disgrace.'
Emirates has arguably been the most notable objector to Heathrow's caps. The airport's relationship with the airline, whose A380 can be found in model form on one of Heathrow's roundabouts as seen below, has gone sour in recent months.
For example, Emirates was so outraged by the caps when they first came about that it threatened not to abide by them. The Sunday Times notes that Clark now adds:
"[Holland-Kaye's] job is to be up there and out there looking after consumers, not bellyaching about not being able to get staff. We did what we had to do – workarounds. Sitting on your hands and saying ‘ho hum,' it’s delinquent."
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According to the Sunday Times, Clark has advocated for a new CEO at Heathrow that can develop a tighter bond with the airport's investors. After all, the Emirates President pointed to a lack of investment as a factor in the understaffing, stating:
"Yes, investors were losing billions during lockdowns, but that’s when you have to put in billions. Heathrow’s owners should have invested a couple of billion pounds to keep the thing going, to keep the staff there."
Emirates ultimately backed down on its threats not to abide by the summer capacity cap, by increasing capacity on its Dubai-London Gatwick (LGW) route. However, it will be interesting to see how it responds should the limits indeed return over the winter, given its strained relationship with Heathrow over the matter.
Heathrow statement
A spokesperson for London Heathrow Airport provided the following statement to Simple Flying regarding the comments made by Clark and Walsh:
"When the industry faced challenges scaling up this summer, we acted to protect consumer service at Heathrow. Our interventions were more targeted than other European hubs and have been shown to be the right thing to do. We are proud that Heathrow was the busiest European hub this summer, and achieved consumer service scores almost as high as in summer 2019 as a result of close collaboration with airlines and their ground handlers. We will continue to do so in the interests of consumers, and it is disappointing that IATA has sunk to making unjustified personal attacks in an effort to influence the CAA Board."
What do you make of Sir Tim Clark's comments? Have London Heathrow Aiport's capacity caps impacted your travel plans? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!
Sources: Sunday Times, The Independent
Journalist – A graduate in German, Jake has a passion for aviation history, and enjoys sampling new carriers and aircraft even if doing so demands an unorthodox itinerary. A keen amateur photographer, he also recently reached the milestone of flying his 100th sector as a passenger. Based in Norwich, UK.

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