Ryanair is adding hundreds of flights from London Stansted as the budget airline seeks to capitalise on an extended passenger limit at "hopeless" Heathrow.
The Irish carrier, which is led by group boss Michael O’Leary, on Tuesday said it will put on an extra 500 services during the October half-term school holiday, with capacity for 10,000 passengers.
Its move comes just hours after Heathrow announced that a daily cap of 100,000 departing passengers – put in place due to concerns about staff numbers – will remain in place until the end of October.
That decision will have implications for several airlines, chief among them British Airways, which is Heathrow’s biggest customer.
BA has said it is still assessing the impact. But in contrast Ryanair on Tuesday boasted that both it and Stansted had “more than sufficient staff to handle these additional flights”.
Mr O’Leary added: “While hopeless Heathrow continues to cut flights and raise fares for families, Ryanair and London Stansted continue to add flights, and offer thousands of low-fare seats for the autumn mid-term break.”
Heathrow has repeatedly criticised airlines for a shortage of ground handlers at the airport, which has resulted in thousands of items of baggage not being put on to their owners' flights this summer.
But Heathrow is likely to face a barrage of compensation claims from affected holiday firms and airlines, many of which have laid the blame for disruption squarely at the feet of airports instead.
The latest extension to Heathrow’s passenger cap raises the prospect of fresh flight cancellations and the curtailment of ticket sales for the popular October half-term holidays.
The cap was originally due to end on September 11.
A BA spokesman said: “We'll continue to work closely with Heathrow Airport as we work out the implications of this extended cap so we can get as many of our customers away as planned.”
Virgin Atlantic said it was disappointed by the move and urged Heathrow to return to normal capacity “as soon as possible”.
A spokesman said: "We are disappointed that Heathrow Airport has already decided to extend the passenger capacity cap until the end of October, as additional resources come on line every week and the airport experience improves.
"Airline customers have a right to expect their bookings will be honoured and we're doing everything in our power to minimise disruption, getting our customers to where they need to be smoothly.
“We want to remove the cap as soon as possible, but we can only do so when we are confident that everyone operating at the airport has the resources to deliver the service our passengers deserve.
"We urge Heathrow to provide a comprehensive plan for returning to normal operations as soon as possible."
Ross Baker, Heathrow’s chief commercial officer, said: "Our primary concern is ensuring we give our passengers a reliable service when they travel.
"That's why we introduced temporary capacity limits in July which have already improved journeys during the summer getaway.
"We want to remove the cap as soon as possible, but we can only do so when we are confident that everyone operating at the airport has the resources to deliver the service our passengers deserve."