‘Fed up’ travellers face another Xmas of delays, cancellations

Our airports are busier than they have been in a long time – but passengers are still enduring frustrating travel hassles.

Our airports are busier than they have been in a long time – but passengers are still enduring frustrating travel hassles. Photo: AAP

Australians travelling over the busy Christmas and New Year period can expect another summer of delays and cancellations, according to data released on Thursday.

It showed less than two-thirds of Australian flights arrived on time during November – well down on the industry average of more than 80 per cent.

Some 3.7 per cent of flights were cancelled during the month, well up on the long-term average of 2.2 per cent.

The dismal domestic airline figures earned a rebuke from Transport Minister Catherine King.

“Given these very disappointing results, it is no wonder that so many Australians remain fed up with our major airlines,” she said on Thursday.

The monthly data released by the Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics monitored the on-time performance on all 59 routes flown by Qantas, QantasLink, Jetstar, Virgin Australia (and its regional arm), as well as Bonza, Rex Airlines and Skytrans.

Source: BIRTE report

It came as airports and airlines are deep into their busiest period of the year, with millions of Australians expected to fly in coming days and weeks.

In November, airlines averaged just 64.1 per cent for on-time arrivals, and 65.9 per cent for on-time departures. The equivalent figures for November 2022 were 66.2 per cent for arrivals and 66.5 per cent for departures.

Bonza and Rex led the way, with on-time performances of 73.9 per cent and 70.5 per cent respectively in November 2023. It was Bonza’s first month included in the BIRTE report.

Virgin Australia was the worst performer, with only 54.3 per cent of flights arriving on time. Qantas was in the middle, with 66.3 per cent of flights arriving on schedule.

A Virgin spokesman said there were multiple factors behind the figures.

“We apologise that in November our operational performance standard did not meet all of our customers’ expectations,” the spokesman said.

“Factors include aircraft maintenance, crew resourcing, weather and air traffic controller shortages impacted our performance last month.”

A spokesman for Qantas said while November’s performance was below targets, the Flying Kangaroo was still the most reliable major domestic airline.

“November was a challenging month operationally, with major storm activity on both the east and west coasts of the country and air traffic control issues,” the spokesman said.

“There were also a significant number of engineering-related delays, with safety always coming before schedule.”

Opposition transport spokeswoman Bridget McKenzie said the jump in cancellations and delays was appalling.

“Performance in Australia’s airline industry plummeted further last month, leaving Australians travelling to see friends and family or for work, disrupted by sky high delays and cancellations,” she said.

“The high level of delays and cancellations across the entire aviation network are exacerbated by the gaming of airline slots at Sydney Airport, of which Labor could fix tomorrow.”

More than 8.5 million people are expected to fly with Qantas and Jetstar services during December and January on nearly 70,000 flights. Qantas said earlier this month that was a jump of more than 500,000 on last year, and a record since before the pandemic.

Virgin Australia has forecast 3.3 million to travel across its network in the same time frame.

Sydney Airport expects its busiest Christmas in four years with 2.6 million passengers flying between December 14 and January 3 — also up 500,000 on 2022.

Melbourne Airport has also flagged a return to pre-pandemic levels of travel, predicting more than 4.2 million travellers between December 20 and January 29.

“The festive period means our terminals and carparks will be busy, so for those driving to the airport we recommend checking for availability and booking parking online and allowing extra time to find a space,” CEO Lorie Argus said.

Passengers are urged to arrive at least an hour ahead of any domestic flight, and three hours before an international flight.

The federal government is expected to hand down its aviation white paper in mid-2024.

“Like all Australians, the government wants an aviation sector that supports our nation’s way of life and this means services need to be reliable, competitive and affordable,” King said.

“This will include consideration of how we can better protect the interests of consumers, whether that be a stronger ombudsman model or other measures implemented in overseas jurisdictions.

“As Australians gear up to travel for Christmas and the holidays, the government will be keeping a close eye on the performance of all our major airlines.”

-with AAP

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