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European Hubs See 80% Drop in Traffic

Aircraft line up and wait for takeoff at Heathrow Airport in London (Photo: AirlineGeeks | James Dinsdale)

Europe’s three biggest hub airports – London’s Heathrow Airport, Frankfurt’s am Main Airport and Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport – reported an 80% drop in passenger counts for September, highlighted by a 95% drop in transatlantic passengers, FlightGlobal reports.

Heathrow reported earlier this week that its passenger counts fell 81.5% compared to September 2019, with only 1.26 million passengers passing through Heathrow last month. Charles de Gaulle, Europe’s second-biggest hub, reported an 80% drop in passengers compared to last year at 1.35 million travelers. Frankfurt, the fourth biggest airport in Europe, faced an 83% drop down to 1.15 million passengers.

At Heathrow, domestic and European traffic were each down 75% and 72% respectively. However, Fraport — the company that operates Frankfurt’s airport in addition to several others — reported a slight uptick in passenger numbers overall due to holiday traffic across its markets. The company’s Greek airports saw a relatively-smaller 61% drop in traffic, while its Turkish airport, Antalya, was down 53%. Its airport in St. Petersburg, Russia saw a 29% drop and the site it operates in Xi’an, China airport saw a measly 10% drop in September.

Overall, European traffic was down 54% in September compared to September 2019, slightly higher than the 51% drop in August but still considerably better than the almost-90%-drop in April and May, at the start of the pandemic.

Europe’s biggest airports are most vulnerable to major drops because they have the highest share of business travelers. But as work travel has become almost nonexistent as companies switch to remote work, people no longer need to travel as much, leading to these substantial drop-offs. This, combined with strict international travel guidelines that usually require foreigners to quarantine for up to 14 days after travel, has been especially damaging for transatlantic passengers.

The drop-offs could bring major shake-ups in who controls slots at the biggest European airports. While big carriers like British Airways in the U.K., Air France in France and Lufthansa in Germany may retain all of their slots — if not add some — at large hubs, smaller carriers that only fly one or two services into these airports may be quick to drop slots at cheaper costs to avoid having to pay to keep them longer or lose them to lotteries. This may allow new airlines to get into big airports – like JetBlue into London – and shake up the travel picture in some of the world’s most influential cities.

The U.S. is seeing slightly-higher passenger throughputs – at the time of writing, four out of the past six days have seen over 900,000 passengers pass through TSA checks, with Sunday nearing one million passengers – but overall travel numbers are still roughly one-third of what they were a year ago. 

John McDermott


  • John McDermott

    John McDermott is a student at Northwestern University. He is also a student pilot with hopes of flying for the airlines. A self-proclaimed "avgeek," John will rave about aviation at length to whoever will listen, and he is keen to call out any airplane he sees, whether or not anyone around him cares about flying at all. John previously worked as a Journalist and Editor-In-Chief at Aeronautics Online Aviation News and Media. In his spare time, John enjoys running, photography, and watching planes approach Chicago O'Hare from over Lake Michigan.

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