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ALEX BRUMMER: Heathrow is shaming Britain


ALEX BRUMMER: Heathrow is holding Britain back… but its money-grubbing boss appears to be living in a parallel universe

The well-remunerated chief executive of Heathrow, John Holland-Kaye, lives in a parallel universe.

As Britain’s busiest airport removed a further 61 flights from Monday’s schedules, Holland-Kaye was extolling the virtues of his team in giving ‘excellent service to the vast majority of passengers’. 

Many people travelling through the airport in recent days will have a different version of events.

Flight of fantasy: Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye said his team was giving ¿excellent service to the vast majority of passengers¿

Flight of fantasy: Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye said his team was giving ‘excellent service to the vast majority of passengers’

At the weekend, I went to Heathrow to pick up a close family member arriving from Austin. 

The BA flight left Texas late but made up the delay on the ten-hour red-eye to Heathrow. When it arrived at the UK’s premier airport, the plane was held up for 20 minutes on the tarmac waiting for a place to disembark.

Passports were cleared rapidly. The same could not be said for baggage at Terminal 3. There was a two-hour wait for the first cases to trickle onto the belt.

At no point did the airport make any announcement as to what was happening, nor did the airline reassure passengers that their bags were on the way. If that is excellent service, one hates to think what happens on a bad day.

Holland-Kaye’s solution is to create more misery by cutting flights yet again. This is the same airport operator which has been seeking to raise landing charges, imposed difficult to navigate and challenge drop-off fees (the chief executive of a major FTSE 100 company was splitting blood about this last week) and higher parking charges.

The slower the baggage handling, the more outrageous the parking fees.

Heathrow is able to escape the slings and arrows of UK-based-and-owned infrastructure, as owners Ferrovial and a bunch of wealth funds are beyond the reach of most consumers.

Holland-Kaye says the inconvenience ‘has not been acceptable’. Nor is the slapdash operation of the airport, or the fact that last year Holland-Kaye’s remuneration package was £1.5million. 

Adjustment to surging travel demand is difficult for all carriers and airlines. Wizz Air announced that it is cutting its summer flight plans by 5 per cent causing sending its shares lower. 

But while so many operators are struggling, the no-frills carrier Ryanair, which decided to keep its staff intact during the pandemic, is proving the real winner in the sector.

Heathrow’s incapacity is bad for passengers, airlines and post-Brexit Britain.

The UK is an economy dependent on global services. Heathrow needs to be best of class if business travel, lifeblood of the City, is to grow.

Digital divide

Fintech is an area where Britain is a leader. It is unfortunate that many of the stars in this bright firmament are losing their dazzle.

Revolut operates with a Lithuanian banking licence and is struggling for UK approval. Kristo Kaarmann, chief executive of brilliant money transfer service Wise, is under investigation over chaotic personal taxes.

And ‘buy now, pay later’ champion Klarna has suffered a calamitous decline in its worth. A year ago it was flying high with a funding round which lifted its valuation to £38billion. 

After its latest fund-raising it is valued at £6.3billion. Klarna rode the ecommerce bubble in the pandemic and is suffering from declining discretionary spending on eplatforms. 

In that it is still able to raise funds suggests the model is still seen as viable. Claims by chief executive Sebastian Siemiatkowski that the latest fund-raising is a ‘testament to its strength,’ have to be taken with a large pinch of salt.

In much the same way as Wise has challenged the whole structure of overseas financial transfers, so Klarna is disrupting the opaque credit card market dominated by Visa, Mastercard et al. 

Confidence that it is going to be the Amazon or Apple of finance is fading fast. Its best future may well prove to be as a cyber-banking arm of a Silicon Valley player or a consumer bank.

Keep tunnelling

Tory tax cuts, necessary to keep the economy running through global energy disruption, will have to be paid for.

Predictably, the enemies of £72billion HS2 are taking aim at the high-speed link from London to Birmingham and Manchester.

Public spending savings, if they are to be made, should come from spending not the capital account. The value of visionary investment is there for all to see in Eurotunnel and now the Elizabeth Line.

World-class infrastructure is a no-brainer for the nation’s future.

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