American Airlines is barring its own employees from using their non-rev travel benefits on flights from London’s Heathrow Airport because of an artificial passenger capacity cap that has been imposed on airlines by the embattled airport operator.
Earlier this week, Heathrow ordered airlines to stop selling any new tickets for the rest of the summer because the airport doesn’t have enough staff to deal with predicted passenger numbers.
In an internal memo, American Airlines told staffers that Heathrow was suffering “long security screening lines and baggage screening capacity concerns,” which have resulted in frequent delays and mountains of lost luggage.
One way that airlines could comply with Heathrow’s drastic new policy is to suspend highly discounted staff travel benefits – known within the industry as ‘non-rev’ travel because the discount is so generous that the passenger is not generating any revenue for the airline.
The move by American to restrict non-rev travel from Heathrow is, however, controversial because concessionary flight tickets are one of the most coveted benefits of working in the airline industry.
The measure could also leave some employees stranded in Europe, while flight attendants are even known to commute from London to work on flights in the United States.
Heathrow estimates that it has the capacity to handle as many as 100,000 passengers per day but if restrictions weren’t introduced, airlines would sell tickets for an estimated 104,000 passengers per day.
One way for airlines to meet the capacity cap is to stop selling tickets but most carriers are unlikely to do this. In reality, some airlines (most notably British Airways) have already cancelled hundreds of flights and will be allowed to continue operating the rest of their schedule as planned.
Other carriers haven’t yet made any attempt to reduce capacity despite the congestion at Heathrow so the airport is asking these airlines to take action now.
For now, American Airlines only intends to limit non-rev travel for a one-week period between July 18 and July 25. The airline did, however, warn employees that the embargo could be extended.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.