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London Heathrow Braced for Rush as Olympic Athletes Leave

London Heathrow airport operator BAA Ltd. said passenger numbers fell 4.1 percent last month as Britons stayed at home to watch the Olympics and overseas travelers delayed visits until after the games.

The customer total across BAA’s five U.K. airports dropped to 9.63 million, with the number using Heathrow, Europe’s busiest hub, down 4.4 percent from a year earlier at 6.57 million, the unit of Spanish builder Ferrovial SA said today.

While overall figures were lower, Heathrow racked up some of its biggest totals for passenger arrivals. The busiest day for incoming travelers in the run up to the Olympics was July 16, when the opening of the athlete village helped lift arrivals to 103,346 and the total to 216,000, the high for the month.

BAA Chief Executive Officer Colin Matthews said in a statement that passenger satisfaction scores were at record levels as the airport drafted in volunteers to help ease travel.

London Gatwick, the capital’s second biggest airport and a hub for discount and charter carriers, attracted 3.63 million passengers in July, down 0.1 percent from a year earlier.

The figure was in line with forecasts, given the number of people putting off vacations “in favor of staying at home to soak up the Games,” CEO Nick Dunn said in a statement.

BAA sold Gatwick to Global Infrastructure Partners Ltd. for 1.51 billion pounds ($2.4 billion) in 2009 as part of a breakup ordered by the U.K. Competition Commission.

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