Gatwick Airport's South terminal could remain shut until next summer, bosses warned, as British Airways embarked on a wave of job cuts.
The UK's second-largest airport this week told staff that one of its two terminals may not reopen for a year and redundancies were likely after hopes of a recovery were crushed by new travel restrictions.
In a live-streamed "town hall" meeting with staff on Monday, chief executive Stewart Wingate said the South terminal cannot return to full operations until carriers' schedules are restored, employees said.
It came as BA began telling thousands of its workers whether they will lose their jobs in a wave of brutal cutbacks.
More than 6,000 staff at the carrier have applied for voluntary redundancy and another 6,000 could face compulsory lay-offs, with thousands more forced to accept severely reduced pay under new contracts.
Demand for flights collapsed as the pandemic struck earlier this year, and hopes of a summer rebound were snuffed out last month when the Government reintroduced quarantine rules for passengers coming back from parts of Europe including Spain. Arrivals from Portugal also face restrictions.
A spokesman for Gatwick said: "While we have seen small green shoots of recovery over the past couple of months, we are continuing to see significantly reduced passenger numbers at what would usually be our busiest time of the year.
“This is further compounded by some markets no longer being exempt from UK quarantine rules, such as Spain and Portugal, which are important destinations for us.”
Late last month, it was hoped that so-called “regional travel corridors” would allow Britons to fly to popular Spanish destinations such as the Balearic and Canary Islands - even if other parts of the country were considered risky due to higher rates of Covid.
One aviation industry source said that Transport Secretary Grant Shapps was pushing hard for corridors but faced opposition from other Cabinet members and needs support from Boris Johnson.
The insider said: “The PM now needs to show some leadership, and move to create a travel corridor to the Canaries.
"It feels like the UK Government is nowhere on this. Despite so many jobs at risk and so many summer holidays hanging in the balance, it feels like the PM has put himself into quarantine on this issue.”
Gatwick has taken a series of heavy blows during the pandemic.
Virgin Atlantic has shut its base at the airport, ground handler Swissport warned it expects to cut Gatwick jobs, and the hub's third-biggest carrier Norwegian was forced to put thousands of workers on taxpayer-funded furlough.
British Airways, Gatwick's second-biggest customer, raised the spectre abandoning the airport and retrenching to Heathrow. Some long-haul services have returned but speculation persists as to whether short-haul flights will ever restart from the Sussex base.
The Gatwick spokesman said: “We are doing all we can to protect the resilience of the business and preserve jobs. However, as a result of the current challenges it is likely we may have to consult on further job losses in due course.” The airport has also delayed a consultation over expansion until next year.
Meanwhile, Virgin Atlantic chalked up what bosses called an “important milestone towards securing its future” after a US court rubber stamped a restructuring of its finances.