Heathrow Expresses Concern Over New Visa Charge Amid Record Passenger Numbers

April 11, 2024

London’s Heathrow Airport has voiced significant concerns over a new £10 charge imposed on visa-exempt passengers travelling through the hub, despite reporting record-breaking passenger traffic for the second consecutive month.

In March, Heathrow welcomed 6.7 million passengers, marking an eight per cent increase from the previous year and bringing the year-to-date figure to 18.5 million. Notably, trips from North America and the European Union accounted for most of this traffic, with 1.6 million and 2.1 million passengers respectively. Trips to the Asia Pacific region also saw a remarkable 18 per cent surge to 892,000.

However, Chief Executive Thomas Woldbye emphasized the detrimental impact of the new Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) scheme on airside transit passengers. The ETA requires passengers from certain countries to pay a £10 fee and obtain an online permit, even when travelling via connecting flights. Woldbye urged the government to exempt airside transit passengers from this scheme to prevent diverting passengers to other destinations for spending and business.

The controversial ETA, initially introduced for Qatari nationals in November, has already seen a decline of 19,000 Qatari passengers passing through Heathrow. Additional countries, including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, were included in the scheme on February 1, with plans to expand it further by the Home Office.

Airlines have strongly criticized the ETA, fearing it will drive traffic away from UK hubs to rival European airports like Amsterdam’s Schiphol, Dubai, and Istanbul, particularly during the critical recovery phase post-pandemic. Virgin Atlantic’s chief, Shai Weiss, described the policy as “short-sighted,” and the CEO of British Airways, Heathrow’s primary airline, warned that it would disadvantage the UK in terms of competitiveness.

Heathrow’s concerns underscore the industry’s apprehension toward the ETA’s potential impact on passenger numbers and the broader aviation sector’s recovery efforts.

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