Heathrow has had its busiest start since pre-Covid lockdown. Heathrow Airport

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Heathrow Airport had its busiest start to 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, according to figures published on Monday, as the easing of travel restrictions continued.

Heathrow said in a statement to the London Stock Exchange that more than 5.4 million passengers traveled through Britain and Europe’s busiest airport in January, more than double the 2.6 million expected in 2022.

In January 2020, the airport recorded its best ever start to the year with 6.1 million passengers, despite early signs that the virus was spreading rapidly from China, where it was first detected, to the rest of the world. The UK did not officially close its borders until March 2020, when passenger numbers fell.

Excluding the pandemic years, Heathrow still recorded its lowest passenger count since January 2015.

As coronavirus pandemic restrictions were eased, Heathrow struggled with a rapid increase in flight numbers. In the summer it imposed capacity limits on airlines after they failed to hire enough people in time to deal with extra traffic.

As the February half-term holiday runs into the weekend for many schools, Heathrow said on Monday it was coping “very well” with the crowds.

The airport said it is supporting UK Border Force’s introduction of eGates for passport control for 10- and 11-year-olds, a measure that could help reduce waiting times for families arriving in the UK Is.

Heathrow’s passenger numbers were boosted by a sharp increase in traffic from the Asia Pacific region in January, which nearly tripled year-on-year to 764,000. Asian countries, including China, have kept travel restrictions in place for much longer than the UK.

China lifted quarantine restrictions on inbound travel for the first time in three years on 8 January, after also easing several domestic restrictions. The easing of restrictions prompted a huge wave of coronavirus infections in a population that was less exposed during leader Xi Jinping’s earlier zero-Covid policy. Passengers traveling from China to England will have to undergo a pre-departure coronavirus test.

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Heathrow said it welcomed announcements by long-haul carriers British Airways and Virgin Atlantic that they were resuming the sale of Chinese tickets, “opening up once again a major market for British exports”. China’s reopening is likely to benefit other parts of the aviation industry, including long-range jet engine maker Rolls-Royce.

John Holland-Kaye, the airport’s chief executive, said it was “back to its best”. Holland-Kaye said this month she would step down after nine years in charge of the airport, a turbulent period that included approval for a controversial third runway despite objections from environmental campaigners, and staff shortages last summer. There was a public falling out with the airlines. caused cancellations and delays.

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