Ryanair is to add more than 500 flights to its London Stansted schedule to keep pace with demand during the October half-term holiday.
Michael O’Leary, the chief executive of the low-cost airline, said extra capacity at the Essex airport would mean capacity for another 100,000 passengers at a time when “hopeless” Heathrow suffers further travel chaos.
Ryanair’s move comes a day after Heathrow announced an extension of its 100,000 passenger a day cap for another six weeks as the aviation sector continues to struggle to meet increased demand for travel amid staffing shortages.
The capacity limit was initially meant to last until 11 September, but that date was pushed back on Monday to 29 October, overlapping with the autumn half-term break for most schools.
“While hopeless Heathrow continues to mismanage air travel, Ryanair and London Stansted will continue to grow and deliver,” O’Leary said.
The airport’s bosses have repeatedly criticised airlines for a shortage of ground handlers at Heathrow, which has resulted in passengers not traveling with their baggage and long waits at pickup when coming home.
“Our primary concern is ensuring we give our passengers a reliable service when they travel,” said Ross Baker, the chief commercial officer at Heathrow. “That’s why we introduced temporary capacity limits in July which have already improved journeys during the summer getaway. We want to remove the cap as soon as possible, but we can only do so when we are confident that everyone operating at the airport has the resources to deliver the service our passengers deserve.”
Ryanair said the airline – and Stansted – have “more than sufficient staff to handle these additional flights during the autumn mid-term break”.
A spokesperson for Virgin Atlantic said the airline was “disappointed” that Heathrow had moved to extend the passenger cap as “additional resources come on line every week and the airport experience improves”.
“We are doing everything in our power to minimise disruption, getting our customers to where they need to be smoothly,” she added.
In June, O’Leary suggested the army could be drafted in to plug the gap in airport security caused by the protracted hiring, training and official vetting process of new staff.
“Bringing in the army, which they do at many other European airports, would, at a stroke, relieve the pressure on airport security,” he said.