Gatwick Airport’s south terminal will reopen next month as the UK travel industry continues its pandemic recovery.
Friday’s announcement came hours after a further relaxation of UK travel rules was announced, as the airport gears up cater for a summer holiday bookings bonanza following two years of Covid-suppressed demand.
Figures from digital travel agency Skyscanner show bookings for economy return travel from the UK this summer increased by 394 per cent in January 2022 compared with the previous month.
Andrew Flintham, managing director for travel group Tui UK, said bookings for February half-term and Easter were now comparable with 2019.
“There remains a huge pent-up demand for international travel and we’ve seen strong and sustained booking patterns since the announcement as customers look to go abroad with ease and without the added expense of testing,” he said.
Mushrooming bookings are music to the ears of Gatwick Airport chief executive Stewart Wingate.
“Everybody who works at the airport is delighted at this news and particularly our passengers,” he told Sky News on Friday morning.
His immediate focus is dealing with the surge presented by next week’s half-term holiday,
“We’re going to be significantly busier over the February half term. We’re going to say somewhere between 50,000 and 60,000 passengers using Gatwick each day,” he said.
February half-term bookings provide travel respite
Gatwick is not the only UK airport expecting a half term surge.
Stansted Airport told UK travel association Abta it is expecting about 200,000 passengers to depart between February 11 and 18.
Other airports to provide figures for the half-term getaway include Manchester (160,000 passengers), Luton (55,000 passengers), Bristol (55,000 passengers) and East Midlands (17,000 passengers).
Looking beyond the February half term, Mr Wingate is focused on the summer season, and it is with this in mind that the south terminal is being resurrected on March 27.
†[The south terminal has] been closed for nearly two years and … now we can with confidence start to plan to operate flights from both the north terminal and the south terminal.”
The renaissance couldn’t some soon enough for Gatwick, which “has been one of the most badly affected big airports anywhere in Europe”, Mr Wingate said.
“As we move into the summer season, we have EasyJet who were going to be operating more flights than they’ve ever operated before here at Gatwick.”
“We have the return of British Airways with the Euro flyer launching on the 29th of March.
“We will have Wizzair as our third biggest airline coming out of the pandemic and, of course, to be operating a full program as well.
“So we’re going to be really busy.”
Gatwick reveals recruitment drive
It is not just infrastructure that must take off if Gatwick is to meet the great British summer escape; airport personnel levels also require bolstering.
Last week Heathrow Airport announced it was embarking on a recruiting drive to hire thousands off staff for positions across its vast network – and on Friday Mr Wingate said Gatwick has been doing the same.
“We are busy recruiting over 5,000 people to come and work at the airport,” he said.
“We started that recruitment back in November of last year … and over the coming weeks we’ve got a variety of job fairs.
“We’ve got lots of information on our portal on our website for people in the local area who want to work at one of the companies based at the airport here at Gatwick.”
Fellow airport magnate, Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye, expressed optimism at the direction of travel after “a tough Christmas” following the imposition of extra restrictions in wake of the emergence of the Omicron variant.
“As short-lived as the additional travel restrictions were, they ruined the travel plans of more than 1.3 million passengers in the last two months,” he said.
“Today’s removal of restrictions for vaccinated passengers in and out of the UK offers a ray of hope, but the Omicron hangover proves demand remains fragile, and at risk to new variants of concern.
“Government needs to set out a playbook for managing future variants that allows travel and trade to keep flowing.”
Families to benefit from new UK travel rules
UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ reaction was less caveated as he proclaimed the scrapping of testing ahead of half term as “good news” for families.
“The UK has eased international travel measures for Covid-19 and now has one of the most free-flowing borders in the world – sending a clear message that we are open for business,” he said.
One of the most popular destinations for families this half-term is Dubai.
Data from online travel agency Skyscanner show bookings for 2022 to Dubai from the UK made in January were up 49 per cent from the same month in 2020.
While Dubai and its all-year-round sunshine is the most popular destination for bookings across the whole of 2022, for the summer months of June, July and August, European destinations hold sway.
Top 10 summer countries 2022*
*Top countries for UK travelers for economy return travel booked via Skyscanner in January 2022 for travel in summer 2022 (June, July and August 2022)
Despite its inevitable number one status for the summer months, bookings to perennial British favorite Spain are lower than might be expected this February half-term because of its requirement for children over 12 to be fully vaccinated.
A top behavioral expert on Wednesday told The National that European Covid restrictions would possibly persuade some unvaccinated people in the UK to get the jab for reasons of convenience.
A beneficiary of tighter Spanish vaccine rules this half term is France.
Cross-Channel train operator Eurostar said more than 125,000 people are booked to travel between the UK and the Continent during the school holiday.
The busiest day will be Friday, when more than 16,000 passengers are booked to travel. Several services are sold out.
“With travel restrictions between the UK and France lifting, we are seeing a surge in leisure traffic, in the short term and looking further ahead to spring and early summer,” said Eurostar chief commercial officer Francois Le Doze.
“We have as many passengers booked to travel in February half term as we had across the whole of January, which shows the potential for recovery and the appetite for travel between the UK and the Continent.”
Travel association Abta was similarly buoyed.
“Today’s changes to the travel rules are the start of a new chapter for the travel industry’s recovery,” said Graham Buck, its director of communications.
“Testing has been one of the biggest barriers to travel, so it’s hugely welcome that the process of traveling abroad is now much cheaper and easier for millions of UK holidaymakers.”
Updated: February 11th 2022, 11:17 AM