‘Significantly lower’: Airlines fail to improve on poor service standards over Christmas

Airlines have had another poor showing at Christmas, new data shows.

Airlines have had another poor showing at Christmas, new data shows. Photo: Getty

Australia’s airline industry has again let down travellers over Christmas, with the latest performance figures showing another December plagued by delays and cancellations.

Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics (BITRE) on-time performance data for last month shows five per cent of flights were cancelled, up 1.6 percentage points on 2022.

Just 63.6 per cent of flights arrived on time and 65.2 per cent left on time, down from 71.1 per cent of arrivals and 70.8 per cent of departures last year, with BITRE delivering a scathing assessment.

“This month’s on-time arrivals figure was significantly lower than the long-term average performance for all routes (81.1 per cent) and the on-time departures figure was also significantly lower than the long-term average (82.2 per cent),” officials said in the report.

Experts had warned before Christmas that travellers should expect more delays and cancelled flights amid a series of issues plaguing the aviation industry, including lingering labour shortages, plane maintenance delays and elevated demand creating crowds at security.

But the results are particularly poor because they’re even worse than Christmas in 2022, when horror stories about missed flights, lost baggage and reams of cancellations were in the news.

Source: BITRE (click to enlarge).

Qantas dips

Qantas had the highest on-time arrivals among major airlines in December at 67.8 per cent, but performed worse than it did in December 2022, when it posted 73 per cent for on-time arrivals.

It was a similar story for departures, with the national carrier scoring 70.2 per cent, compared to 71.9 per cent in 2022. Cancellations were slightly lower at 2.7 per cent (2.9 per cent in 2022).

As previously reported, Qantas has suffered a fall from grace with Australians after several years struggling with service standards following COVID-19, with its brand losing value.

But there are signs of improvement, particularly at its discount arm Jetstar, which performed better this Christmas than last, with on-time performance increasing and cancellations down.

In a statement, Qantas sought to talk up its performance as the most “on time” airline in December.

“Qantas was again the most punctual major domestic airline during a very busy December as the industry dealt with storms, air traffic control staffing shortages and peak holiday demand,” a spokesperson said.

Australia’s second largest airline Virgin had a particularly tough December, with on-time arrivals falling to 54 per cent (down from 67.4 per cent in 2022) and on-time departures down to 56.5 per cent (down from 67.5 per cent).

Cancellations were also materially higher, reaching 7.7 per cent compared to 3.4 per cent over December 2022.

Source: BITRE (click to enlarge).

Bonza recorded the highest cancellation rate of all domestic airlines at an astonishing 19.4 per cent, it also only managed to achieve 55 per cent rate for on-time arrivals and 52.6 per cent for departures.

That means about half of Bonza flights were either delayed or cancelled over December.

Cancellations and delays can be caused for myriad reasons, some of which are outside the control of airlines.

For example, BITRE says December was affected by Cyclone Jasper, with cancellations around Cairns airport being particularly high over the month.

“Cancellations were highest on the Cairns-Townsville route at 14.8 per cent, followed by the Cairns-Sydney route at 14.6 per cent, the Sydney-Cairns route at 14.3 per cent and the Cairns-Melbourne route at 13.5 per cent,” BITRE officials said.

Qantas also blamed shortages of air traffic control staff for some delays.

“Air Traffic Control workforce shortages continue to cause delays and cancellations, with Airservices Australia reporting this as the cause of 16 per cent of the total ground delays and 6 per cent of cancellations at Australia’s four major airports during December,” a spokesperson said.

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