Heathrow pins hopes on Xmas getaway rush amid speculation Saudis are looking to seize majority control

The number of passengers flying through Heathrow is just 2 per cent below pre-pandemic levels as travel continues to bounce back.

Europe’s busiest airport revealed 6.1m travellers jetted in and out of its terminals in November – only slightly below the 6.2m that flew in the same month of 2019.

Heathrow has enjoyed steady growth since global travel restrictions were lifted, with an increasing number of people flocking abroad.

But the latest figures come as speculation mounts that Saudi Arabia’s investment fund could be looking to seize majority control of the west London airport after taking a 10 per cent stake in the group last month.

Sources suggest that Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) is in talks with other Heathrow shareholders, who are considering selling off their stakes.

All aboard: Heathrow revealed 6.1m travellers jetted in and out of its terminals in November – only slightly below the 6.2m that flew in the same month of 2019

The Saudi sovereign wealth fund, whose vast array of assets includes Newcastle United FC, agreed to pay £1billion to Spanish infrastructure giant Ferrovial for an initial holding in the group. Ferrovial also sold a 15 per cent stake to French buyout group Ardian.

Heathrow’s remaining shareholders are sovereign wealth funds from Qatar, China and Singapore, and pension funds from Quebec, Australia and the UK’s Universities Superannuation Scheme. Saudi Arabia continues to expand its travel portfolio.

Heathrow has flown 72m passengers in the first 11 months of the year, which is up 30 per cent compared to the same period last year.

Business has been bolstered by major celebrations, including a surge of travellers to North America last month for Thanksgiving. 

More than 50,000 passengers flew across the Atlantic from Heathrow on November 17, which was the last Friday before the holiday. Diwali also sparked a surge in travel to India.

Heathrow chief executive Thomas Woldbye said: ‘For so many, holidays and cultural festivities are all about spending quality time with friends and family.

‘Last month saw passengers travelling to celebrate Thanksgiving and Diwali with their loved ones, and we are making final preparations for the Christmas getaway.’

Heathrow expects about 6.5m passengers to travel through the airport this month as the festive season gets into full swing.

This would be a 10 per cent increase on the 5.9m travellers who jetted off in December 2022, but still behind the 6.7m who flew in the festive rush of 2019 before the pandemic hit.