London’s Heathrow airport said it’s grappling with a surge in Olympic traffic as sports fans and VIPs swell passenger numbers on what’s forecast to be the most hectic day ever for arrivals.
Europe’s busiest airport forecasts that 125,000 passengers will fly in, surpassing a record of 123,000 set on July 31 last year, owner BAA Ltd. said. The number exiting will be about 102,000, lower than the predicted 110,000 after some people rebooked departures amid concern about strike action.
“It’s a case of so far, so good,” BAA spokesman Simon Baugh said by telephone. “Tuesday was the peak for athletes, so we’re dealing with less out-size sporting baggage, but numbers of media and sponsors are very high. We’re also seeing a peak in VIP arrivals, which brings its own complications.”
Heathrow has maximized staffing levels and brought in volunteers to help deal with the Olympic surge. An initial high came on July 16, when the competitor village opened, followed by the July 24 peak in athlete arrivals. The busiest period of all may come on Aug. 13, the day after the closing ceremony, with 130,000 people forecast to depart and 108,000 to arrive for a total of 238,000 that would beat the hub’s 233,000 daily record.
Transport systems have so far “held up well,” Prime Minister David Cameron said at a news conference in the Olympic Park. London Mayor Boris Johnson said he has full confidence in security measures after soldiers were assigned to provide cover when the contracted company, G4S Plc, said it couldn’t cope.
“London is as ready as any city has ever been in the history of the Olympic Games,” he told reporters. “The stuff I’m getting from the army, from the police, from everybody involved in protecting the venue says it’s going very, very well.”
At Heathrow, the Windsor Suite has been particularly busy with arrivals including U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who flew in yesterday to attend tomorrow’s opening ceremony. The facility, located at the British Airways-dominated Terminal 5, is used by most of the airport’s VIP visitors.
Passengers are taken from the plane by car to the suite, where they’re met by another vehicle after quickly transiting immigration. Almost all VIP visitors to Heathrow arrive on scheduled flights since the airport generally lacks the spare capacity to accommodate business-jet and charter operations.
Lines at immigration desks were within targets today and at times non-existent, even with the arrivals surge, Baugh said. The U.K. Border Agency had drafted in extra staff to cope with a strike called by the Public and Commercial Services Union that was abandoned yesterday following government talks.
“Dealing with the big swings in arrivals and departures is the toughest thing,” Baugh said, adding that a late jump in exiting traffic could still materialize today as people revise travel plans now that the walkout has been scrapped.
On London’s roads, 75 percent of the city’s 30 miles of “Games Lanes” -- reserved for athletes, officials and the media -- were opened to all traffic using digital displays, Transport for London spokeswoman Ann Laker said by telephone.
While non-Olympic traffic is nominally banned from the lanes between 6 a.m. and midnight, the intention has always been to grant general access where games flows allow, she said, adding that there is also a “good service” on London’s subway.
A fire alert at West Ealing railway station caused the Heathrow Express train service to suspend operations for about 35 minutes this morning, BAA spokesman Martin Sparey said.
The National Rail Enquiries website warned of continuing delays of about 10 minutes. People should also check the Get Ahead of the Games website to avoid travel disruption during the Olympics, according to TfL.
A strike planned for tomorrow at Serco Group Plc’s “Boris Bikes” cycle-borrowing business, named after the mayor, has been called off after workers received a “substantially improved Olympics recognition and reward offer,” according to Rail, Maritime and Transport union General Secretary Bob Crowe.
The action would have coincided with the opening ceremony and jeopardized an alternative to crowded public transport networks during the games.