Heathrow Boss Wants ETA Scrapped for Transit Passengers

| February 26, 2024
Heathrow Boss Wants ETA Scrapped for Transit Passengers

Heathrow Airport CEO warns that requiring connecting passengers to pay more will hurt the United Kingdom (UK).

Thomas Woldbye criticized the new Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) scheme imposed on short-term visitors.

All non-visa transit passengers in the UK must have an ETA regardless of whether they are going through border control.

“I think it’s a mistake,” Woldbye told The Independent. “I think that should be changed as fast as possible.”

ETA reduces Heathrow’s competitive advantage

The UK ETA is mandatory for all travelers who do not require a visa to enter the UK, which includes citizens of the European Union (EU) and the Americas.

However, unlike in all other major European airports, all passengers transferring planes in the UK to onward destinations must have an ETA.

It is the same permission-to-travel document non-visa travelers arriving in the UK for a holiday or business visit must present.

In airports such as Schiphol in Amsterdam, Frankfurt in Germany, or Charles de Gaulle in France, transit passengers flying outside the EU’s Schengen Area are exempt from meeting local border requirements.

“We support the ETA system because it makes sense, immigration-wise,” Woldbye said.

However, he said passengers who are only “transiting airside to move on to another country” should not have to pay £10 for a brief stop.

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

“It clearly reduces the competitiveness of the hub that we have built in Heathrow, which I think is critical to the UK,” Woldbye stressed.

UK-based airlines fear losing connecting passengers

Paul Charles, director of the luxury UK-based travel agency The PC Agency, also demanded the removal of ETA for transit passengers.

“If other airports offer free transit, then they will pick up market share,” he explained.

While the EU is set to introduce a similar system, the Electronic Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS), airside transit passengers are exempted from it.

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

Sean Doyle, CEO of British Airways, had also said the ETA may discourage passengers to transit through London’s Heathrow Airport.

Airlines UK and the Board of Airline Representatives (BAR) UK had also claimed that charging airside transit visa-exempt passengers is unjust.

Airlines UK is the industry association for UK-based airlines, while BAR UK is the trade body for airlines registered in the UK.

They argued that airside passengers, or those who do not go through border control, are not technically crossing any borders.

Transit passengers in the United States (US) must also have the ETA equivalent Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).

However, all transit passengers need to clear border control before connecting to their onward flight.

Transit passengers keep Healthrow busy

In 2023, London’s Heathrow Airport recorded a profit for the first time since the pandemic, reported the Financial Times.

The busiest airport in the world is expected to receive a record 81.4 million passengers in 2024.

About 30 percent of those passengers are from about 25 million connecting flights annually.

These flights are primarily for passengers flying globally without direct flights to their destination.

With the added cost of the ETA, passengers may choose layover flights in other airports instead of London’s Heathrow Airport.

As a result, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic may experience a decrease in their passenger numbers.

About half of the travelers using Heathrow Airport for British Airways are connecting passengers.

Heathrow Airport’s connecting flights also contribute to its status as a major global hub.

This is vital to the UK’s tourism, trade, and international connectivity, allowing London travelers easy access to other global destinations.

ETA for transit travelers is vital for security

The ETA scheme aims to allow the UK government more insight and control over individuals traveling to the UK.

The British government firmly believes it should be mandatory for all non-visa travelers, including all transiting passengers, for it to be successful.

“Requiring transit passengers to obtain an ETA stops people who may use connecting flights to avoid gaining permission to travel to the UK.” read the ETA media factsheet.

It added, “We are keeping this under review as we continue to roll out the scheme.”

Currently, only visitors from Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) use the ETA.

By 2024, the UK government will require all non-visa nationals to obtain an ETA before traveling to the UK.