More than 5.4 million passengers travelled through Heathrow in January, the busiest start to the year since 2020.
John Holland-Kaye, the outgoing chief executive, said the airport was back to its best after passenger numbers rose 111 per cent on last year’s 2.6 million, leaving them 10 per cent shy of the 6.1 million recorded in the period before the pandemic.
The airport said overall passenger satisfaction levels were at or above pre-pandemic levels, with 98 per cent of them waiting less than ten minutes to pass security last month.
UK airports were hit by severe disruption in the run-up to Christmas amid strikes by Border Force staff. Heathrow said, however, that it had “successfully managed” the strike action, having previously assured passengers it was operating normally during strike days, with minimal queuing in immigration halls.
It also reiterated plans by Border Force to extend the use to children aged 10 and 11 of the airport’s automatic passport control gates over the half-term school holidays, a period for which it said the airport was well equipped to handle the influx of passengers.
“We are giving a warm welcome to families over the half-term getaway by delivering excellent service and bringing back the magic of travel,” Holland-Kaye said.
Heathrow also said it was supportive of the announcement by British Airways and Virgin Atlantic that sales of tickets to China would resume.
The most popular destination for travellers from Heathrow last month was the European Union, which welcomed 1.6 million passengers, while North America was the destination for 1.2 million people.
It was announced earlier this month that Holland-Kaye, 57, would leave the airport after nine years. He played a key role in persuading parliament to approve a third runway, though there are questions over whether it will ever go ahead.
He was also heavily criticised for the airport’s performance during and after the various pandemic lockdowns, particularly when it was short 20,000 staff when skies reopened. His introduction of a cap on airline traffic movements last summer in the face of surging passenger numbers was criticised by airlines and passengers.
He also courted controversy by criticising the way the government enforced travel restrictions during Covid outbreaks, blaming this for the inability of the UK economy to recover quickly after the pandemic.