Demand to travel in January was weaker than expected, figures from Heathrow airport suggest, down by 56 per cent on pre-pandemic levels.
The news comes as the hangover from the Omicron variant of Covid-19 continues to suppress passenger confidence, the airport argued.
Over 1.3 million passengers cancelled or did not book their trips because of omicron restrictions in December and January new data suggests.
While bookings for outbound tourism are recovering, inbound tourism and business travel remain weak due to Covid-19 levels in the UK and other countries, international testing requirements and the risk of new border closures in the event of a new variant of concern.
Heathrow chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, said: “After a tough Christmas, Omicron has continued to bite, and this has been a weak start to the year.
“As short-lived as the additional travel restrictions were, they ruined the travel plans of more than 1.3 million passengers in the last two months.”
He added: “The removal of restrictions for vaccinated passengers in and out of the UK offers a ray of hope, but the Omicron hangover proves demand remains fragile, and at risk to new variants of concern and government needs to set out a playbook for managing future variants that allows travel and trade to keep flowing.”
Heathrow forecast traffic this year would sit at just over half of pre-pandemic levels on the basis that strong demand for outbound summer holidays will offset a weaker start to the year.
Officials are working with airlines and ground handlers to increase resources across the airport ahead of the summer peak, the airport added.