Dhaka: London's Heathrow Airport current closure of Terminal 3 and Terminal 4 could extend through to 2021, with several Oneworld member airlines now considering a move to the T5 hub of British Airways.
T3 and T4 were closed across April-May 2020 in response to vastly reduced flights and passenger numbers as the coronavirus settled in for an extended stay, with most airlines being relocated to Terminal 2, the airport's newest terminal which primarily serves as home to Star Alliance members.
John Holland-Kaye, CEO of Heathrow Airport said that Terminal 3 may reopen later this year, depending on demand, although Terminal 4 will remain closed until next year.
"I think the test will be when we think we'll see more people coming back to fly in the summer, to go on their summer holidays, and so we expect to see an uplift there," Holland-Kaye said. "Will they then come back and fly for business in September and October? That's the critical time. And we won't know until we get there."
T3 would need to reach a minimum viable threshold of traffic to reopen, which makes any date subject to each wave of travel restrictions and border closures.
American Airlines has already decamped from T2 to T5, where it now runs several daily flights to the USA as well as tapping into easier UK and European connections for inbound travellers via British Airways and Iberia, and is looking to make T5 its permanent London base.
"While the move has been driven by terminal consolidation measures... as air traffic movements increase, American Airlines, British Airways and Heathrow Airport will seek to agree a bilateral future operational strategy for Terminal 5," a spokesman for American Airlines said.
Both Malaysia Airlines and Qatar Airways, which were previously based at T4 and operated their own lounges at the terminal, are now cooling their heels at T2, alongside Cathay Pacific.
While Cathay's significant investment in its Terminal 3 first class and business class lounges would make the airline eager to return to T3 – along with Virgin Atlantic, which will restart flights to New York and Los Angeles next week – Malaysia Airlines and Qatar Airways would be more likely to temporarily relocate to T5. Neither airline had replied to a request for comment by the time this article was published.
A Finnair spokesperson, when asked about a shift from T3 to T5, said, "the date is not yet confirmed... at this point we do not have a timeline to be communicated."
A spokesperson for Heathrow Airport said there was "no timeline" for any forthcoming airline moves from T3 to T5.
Qantas, which also has its own lounge at Terminal 3, has scrubbed plans for international flights until mid-2021. In related news, Heathrow will close one of its two runways for repairs at the height of the northern summer season, a reflection of passenger traffic that remains near rock bottom because of coronavirus lockdowns.
The landing strip will be shut down over coming weeks to allow preliminary works to take place, before reopening during the day with construction activity taking place at night, the airport said.
The number of people passing through Heathrow was down 95 per cent in June from a year earlier, after the introduction of quarantine rules for arriving passengers cut occupancy levels by 10 per cent, the airport said on July 13. Sequentially, that’s barely an improvement from levels seen in April and May at the height of travel curbs.