As prospective holidaymakers wait to see if summer trips may go ahead, the UK’s main gateway says passenger numbers have fallen to their lowest level since 1966 – the year England won the World Cup.
Heathrow’s figures for February show just 461,000 passengers arrived or departed during the entire four-week spell.
Normally the London airport would handle more travellers than that in just two days.
It was the first full month since the third lockdown began, and coincided with the introduction of hotel quarantine for arrivals from 33 “red list” countries.
The airport said the collapse was due to “all but essential travel, blanket quarantine, pre-departure and post-arrival testing”.
Yet despite barely 8,000 passengers a day arriving on the average February day, queues for UK Border Force meant that some travellers had to wait for six hours.
The airport’s chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, said: “Ministers must get a grip of Border Force’s performance so that visitors get a warm welcome to Britain, not a six-hour queue.”
Nick Jariwalla, director of the UK Border Force at Heathrow, has rejected criticism of delays, saying the main cause is that a large number of passengers are arriving without having purchased their mandatory Covid testing packages.
The limits on passenger flights – which normally carry freight – mean Heathrow’s cargo volumes remain 30 per cent down, while EU rivals including Frankfurt, Paris Charles de Gaulle and Amsterdam Schiphol airports have returned to pre-Covid levels.