Monday, June 24, 2024

The airlines that are most likely to disrupt your summer holiday

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With summer 2024 set to be the busiest for airlines and airports since the pandemic, passengers eager for a smooth getaway may face unexpected disruption.

Airlines have been anticipating strong demand by adding capacity – easyJet has 8 per cent more seats on sale from the UK this summer compared to 2023, while Jet2 has added 70,000 seats to extend its summer programme into the autumn, as shoulder season continues to appeal to bargain-hunting holidaymakers.

The cost of living continues to be a major factor in consumer spending – Skyscanner says that 40 per cent of Britons are still undecided about their summer holiday plans. Surplus capacity could see airlines having to trim back or consolidate services last-minute. Airlines will also want to be reassured that there is no repeat of last August’s bank holiday air traffic control meltdown.

EasyJet told i: “We are looking at ensuring we have measures in place to mitigate external issues, for example we made some changes last summer at Gatwick to create some breaks in the schedule to enhance resilience and that has been carried through to this year.”

As demand ramps up heading into summer, aviation analytics firm Cirium’s monthly airline on-time performance report for April noted a “slight increase” in the number of cancelled flights in Europe compared to March – up from 6,983 to 7,103.

The broader picture looks a little brighter. During the recent May half term (from 24 May to 2 June), there were nearly 5 per cent more flights departing the UK compared to the same period last year, according to Cirium. The increase in flights saw a significant reduction in last-minute cancellations year-on-year, amounting to 0.92 per cent of flights. However, less than two thirds of flights (63.67 per cent) took off on time.

A big challenge for Ryanair is meeting the demand of its “largest ever summer schedule”. The Irish low-cost carrier’s plans to add 50 Boeing aircraft to its fleet have been hampered by production delays that will leave it 23 aircraft short of the delivery schedule, forcing it to reduce frequency on some key routes.

Given these challenges, i has analysed recent Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) data to uncover the airlines that are most likely to disrupt holiday plans this summer. The analysis, based on CAA data from October 2023 to March 2024, reveals a mixed picture of performance, with some carriers struggling with high cancellation rates and lengthy delays, while others maintained impressive punctuality.

The airlines with highest rates of disruption

KLM emerges as the airline with the highest cancellation rate, cutting 6 per cent of its flights during the six-month period, followed closely by Lufthansa (5.63 per cent) and Loganair (5.48 per cent). Aer Lingus and British Airways cancelled 3.43 per cent and 2.08 per cent of their flights, respectively.

Delays can be equally frustrating for passengers. Turkish Airlines leads the pack in this category, with flights delayed by an average of 21.78 minutes, followed by Tui Airways (21.20 minutes), Emirates (19.04 minutes), Wizz Air (18.09 minutes) and Loganair (17.11 minutes).

When it comes to significant delays exceeding two hours, Wizz Air takes the top spot (2.74 per cent of its schedule, followed by Loganair Ltd (2.73 per cent), Ireland’s regional carrier Emerald Airlines (2.58 per cent), American Airlines (2.33 per cent) and Tui Airways (2.24 per cent).

A spokesperson for Wizz said, “In 2022, like all airlines in Europe, Wizz Air experienced extraordinary operating challenges driven mostly by the external environment. Since then, we have invested more than £90m to stabilise operations, reduce the number of delays and provide a better experience for customers. While we saw significant improvements in 2023, there was still work to be done.

“However, when you look at 2024, Wizz Air’s performance is among the strongest in the entire industry. Our on-time performance for flights departing to and from the UK increased by 16.6 per cent to 71.7 per cent.”

The best-performing airlines

Some airlines have managed to maintain good performance, suggesting reliability this summer. Emirates had the lowest cancellation rate at 0.26 per cent, while Virgin Atlantic saw only 0.93 per cent of its flights delayed by more than two hours, with an average delay of 10.51 minutes – the lowest among major carriers.

The CAA’s flight punctuality report for the final quarter of 2023 recorded Jet2 as the UK’s most punctual airline, operating 77 per cent of its flights on time between October and December last year.

At the other end of the scale, British Airways operated just 65 per cent of its flights on time, coming bottom of the table among UK airlines, 1 per cent below Ryanair and 3 per cent behind Wizz Air (68 per cent).

Airports are braced for a record-breaking summer, which they hope will be free of cancellations (Photo: Cravetiger/Getty Images)
Airports are braced for a record-breaking summer, which they hope will be free of cancellations (Photo: Cravetiger/Getty Images)

Over-scheduling

As airlines race to capture market share this summer, some industry experts have warned of overscheduling, risking cancellations and disruptions. Noel Josephides, chairman of Sunvil Holiday Group and former chairman of the Association of Independent Tour Operators, told i: “In some cases, there will be disruption, but this is unlikely to be at the last minute, as airlines do not want bad publicity.” He added that airlines will likely choose to cancel flights which have alternative departures available on the same day. Airlines could also rely on “heavy discounting in order to shift capacity and to attract a different, bargain-seeking, audience”, he said.

Ryanair, for example, has been running recent flash sales on midweek flights to shift unsold capacity leading up to the school holidays. Jet2 has also discounted fares to several of its European routes throughout the summer, including Bodrum, Gran Canaria, Menorca and Rhodes.

However, major airlines remain optimistic about the summer season. A Jet2 spokesperson assured i: “We have no plans to cancel flights and we are looking forward to our biggest ever summer when we will take millions of customers away on their well-deserved holidays.”

Airport uncertainty

Airports are also braced for a record-breaking summer, with Heathrow anticipating its busiest season ever, expecting to handle 82.4 million passengers across this year. Stansted has just recorded its busiest ever May.

However, the delayed rollout of new CT scanners at major UK airports, including Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester, and the swift reintroduction of 100ml liquid restrictions at airports with new-generation scanners by the Department for Transport last weekend, mean that passengers could face long queues at security, as well as confusion. Birmingham airport – where construction work is ongoing to upgrade the security area – has seen queues of up to three hours in recent days.

The CAA’s report for October-December 2023 revealed the UK’s least punctual airports to be Gatwick, with less than two thirds of flights departing on time (63 per cent), followed by Edinburgh, Stansted and Heathrow. The most punctual airport in the UK was East Midlands, where 79 per cent of flights departed on time.

Strikes

The final slice of summer travel uncertainty comes courtesy of ongoing French air traffic control strikes. The Foreign Office recently warned British travellers “throughout June, planned industrial action by port worker and air traffic control unions is expected to disrupt some ferry routes and flights across France, with some routes and flights diverted or cancelled”.

However, recent strikes were called off when President Emmanuel Macron called the snap election and a “truce for the Olympics” has been secured between the French government and unions, reducing the likelihood of strikes during this critical period.

Recent measures, such as requiring controllers to declare strike participation 48 hours in advance, have also improved management capabilities and minimised the impact on flight schedules.

What to do when things go wrong

Forewarned is forearmed. Airlines and airports may not have sufficient staff to deal swiftly with the hundreds of passengers on board a delayed or cancelled flight, so wait for help to come to you. In most situations, it pays to be proactive.

If you are delayed on a UK or EU flight (or any flight arriving in the UK on a UK or EU airline) by more than two hours for a short-haul flight, three hours for a mid-haul flight and four hours for a long-haul flight, the airline must provide you with care and assistance – food and drink, and a phone call. If you aren’t provided with vouchers, keep receipts for reasonable sustenance and submit a claim with the airline. If you are delayed for more than five hours and no longer wish to travel, you are entitled to a refund.

If you are re-routed on a flight departing the following day, the airline must provide you with overnight accommodation and transport to get to and from it. Again, if this is not provided you can organise this yourself and submit a reasonable claim afterwards.

Airlines may have to provide compensation if your flight arrives at its destination more than three hours late, but this depends on what caused the delay and whether it was outside the airline’s control.

If your flight is cancelled, the airline must give you the option of a refund (within seven days), or rebooking your flight at the earliest convenience. If this happens at short notice and you are unhappy with the replacement flight on offer, you have the right to ask for an alternative, which could be on a different airline.

For speed and ease, you may want to research this yourself, providing the airline with the details of the flight you wish to take. Again, if this is not possible you can book an alternative flight and claim the cost, though you must let the airline know that this is what you plan to do.

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