Heathrow Airport Ranks 4th Busiest Airport in 2023; Stresses ETA Removal for Airside Transit

| April 18, 2024
Heathrow Airport Ranks 4th Busiest Airport in 2023; Stresses ETA Removal for Airside Transit

According to Airports Council International (ACI), London’s Heathrow Airport ranked the fourth busiest in the world in 2023.

The largest airport in the United Kingdom (UK) leaped from eighth place in 2022 to secure the fourth spot in 2023.

Heathrow Airport received 79.1 million passengers in 2023, a 28.2 percent increase from the year before.

While it is 2.1 percent short of its passenger number in 2019, it surpassed its sixth-place ranking before the pandemic.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in the United States (US) took the top spot. It has held on to first place for three years now.

For the first time, Dubai Airport in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) ranked second. It recorded a 31.7 percent increase in passenger numbers.

Dallas Fort Worth Airport in the US ranked third, sliding one spot down from 2022.

In terms of international passengers, the ACI airport rankings remained the same for the first four spots compared to 2022.

Dubai received the most international passengers, with 86.9 million passengers in 2023. It has remained on top for three years now.

London came in second with 74.9 million international passengers.

Amsterdam ranked third with 61.8 million, while Paris took fourth place, with 61.4 million international passengers.

In a news release, ACI World Director General Luis Felipe de Oliveira said, “Global air travel in 2023 was chiefly fuelled by the international segment.”

In 2023, airports recorded 8.5 billion passengers, an increase of 27.2 percent from last year, representing 93.8 percent of the pre-pandemic passenger numbers.

The surge was mainly fueled by China’s reopening to international travel and a growing number of travelers despite economic factors.

Heathrow Airport once again calls to remove ETA for transit passengers

Thomas Woldbye, the CEO of Heathrow Airport, has been vocal in urging the UK government to scrap the Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) for transit passengers.

He did so again as the world’s fourth busiest airport announced another month with record passenger numbers.

March 2024 saw Heathrow Airport receiving a total of 6.7 million passengers.

It shows an eight percent increase compared to March 2023 and the most significant number recorded for that month.

According to local media, Heathrow also had its busiest Easter holiday weekend ever, with 936,000 passengers.

Woldebye was pleased to see Heathrow providing “smooth journeys for a record number of passengers.”

“To keep up the momentum, the government needs to exempt airside transit passengers from the ETA scheme,” he declared during the press briefing, as reported by Travel Tomorrow.

Airside transit passengers are travelers with connecting flights in the UK but do not need to go through border control.

Woldbye said scrapping the ETA for connecting passengers will “avoid encouraging [them] to spend and do business elsewhere.”

Heathrow’s boss stressed, “We need to level the playing field so the UK aviation industry continues to be world-class.”

The ETA scheme’s impact on transit passengers has already been seen in a drop in the number of flyers from Qatar to Heathrow Airport.

“In the first four months of ETAs being in place, 19,000 fewer transit passengers traveled from Qatar,” Heathrow Airport’s statement said.

Since the ETA was introduced to Qatar travelers in November 2023, the transfer route recorded “its lowest monthly proportions for over ten years each month.”

Requiring airside transit passengers to obtain an ETA before boarding their connecting flight puts UK airports at a “competitive disadvantage.”

Heathrow Airport stated that the ETA is a “huge blow” to long-haul routes that rely heavily on transit passengers.

These routes may soon be unviable and negatively impact “the UK’s economy, exports, and wider connectivity.”

More calls to scrap the ETA for airside transit passengers

Heathrow Airport is not the only body calling for the British government to scrap the ETA for airside transit visitors.

Airlines UK, the trade body for UK-registered airlines, the Board of Airline Representatives (BAR) UK, and the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the trade body for airlines worldwide, share this call.

Airlines UK and BAR UK believe airside transit passengers do not technically cross the country’s borders when connecting to their onward destination.

British Airways CEO Sean Doyle expressed concern that the ETA will discourage passengers from transiting through London’s Heathrow Airport.

Paul Charles, former Virgin Atlantic communications director, had also stressed, “Taxing transit is tantamount to failure.”

However, the UK Home Office has been firm in requiring the ETA for all transit passengers, regardless of whether they are going through border control.

It underlined that the ETA “stops people who may use connecting flights to avoid gaining permission to travel to the UK.”

Still, the Home Office also said it is “keeping this under review as we continue to roll out the scheme.”

The UK ETA will be mandatory for travelers who don’t need a visa to enter the UK. This includes European Union citizens, American citizens, and others.

Currently, only travelers from Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE need an ETA to travel to the UK.

An ETA application costs £10. It is valid for two years and allows multiple short trips to the UK for leisure, business, or study.

Unlike at other major European airports, all passengers with connecting flights in the UK need an ETA for their onward travel.