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AIRLINES: One in 4 Australian flights arrive late or are cancelled

AIRLINES: One in 4 Australian flights arrive late or are cancelled

New data from the Australian Department of Transport shows that under 70% of flights arrived on time in October (69.3%), while about the same percentage departed on time (68.5%).

Although an improvement on figures from earlier in 2022, they still represent some of the worst on-time figures for the Australian airline Industry since records began in 2003.

The average on-time performance over the years records have been kept is between 80% and 85%. In 2022, performance started at those average levels and then plummeted to around 55% in July, giving the worst performance ever.

Graph of on-time performance data shows recent sharp dip in on-time arrivals and departures
On-time performance chart supplied by the Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics (BITRE)

Who was worst and best?

If you believed twitter – you would say Qantas (& Qantas Link) was the worst, but in fact they were the best performer in October at 74.2%. Next came REX at 68.3%. Next came Virgin Australia and its regional subsidiary at 64.9% for arrivals. Jetstar, the budget airline of the Qantas Group, came in last for both arrivals (64.4%) and departures. (61.6%).

a group of airplanes parked on a runway

Jetstar – really bad

Cancellations are an accepted part of aviation. They happen for reasons outside the control of airlines – like weather or mechanical failure, or other reasons like crew time-out, or passenger illness etc. But Jetstar had the highest cancellation rate at 3.9% — twice the long-term industry average of 2.1%.

Anecdotally they have had delays of 44 hours on a flight to Bali, and real issues with the availability of fully functioning aircraft for international flights, as well as other staffing issues. A lot of family holidays mucked up, and resentful passengers.

a man holding a tray of food and a woman sitting at a table
Remember table service during the pandemic?

Complaints – they’ve had a few

All these delays and cancellations are reflected in the level of complaints recorded by the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission). At 9,149 complaints in 2021, representing a 50% increase on pre-pandemic complaint levels. Customers also complain to their state and territory consumer affairs bodies, showing a similar or greater increase in reported issues. Qantas wins the current prize for the most complained companies. It didn’t seem to plan that with the release of pent-up travel demand would also come the presumption that all would go well – and then it didn’t.

a white airplane in the sky
REX Airlines

Sky-high prices

The reaction of Qantas and some other airlines to the service failures has been to cut the number and frequency of flights to some destinations. It’s good for them, as it relieves the pressure on aircraft and staffing. However, its a crap outcome for passengers who now due to scarcity are paying sky high prices for domestic travel, and at the top end for international.

According to the BITRE, the cheapest November economy fare for Perth-Sydney one-way was $1,210, versus $497 back in 2019 – pre-pandemic. The ACCC – seeing the largest fare increases in a decade, warned the trend would continue to the end of 2022. The cause is a return to pre-pandemic demand, but not a return to pre-pandemic supply, with the shortfall meaning that airlines can hike their prices.

a plane parked on a runway

Good for airlines, bad for passengers

Airlines took a real battering during the height of the pandemic, even despite government support, Qantas was reportedly only weeks away from insolvency, and Virgin did go into administration and was finally sold.

High airfares on more limited services mean airlines are racking it in, helping them to rebuild severely damaged balance sheets. This is evidenced by Qantas forecasting a first-half profit of around AU$1.3 billion, which will help the reported 6 billion dollar loss during the pandemic.

a large airport terminal with signs and a large sign
Ballina/Byron luggage carousel

2PAXfly Takeout

This is another timely reminder to wear your seatbelt when seated. Holding you close to your seat will protect you from the sort of injuries sustained on this flight, when unsecured passengers flew to the ceiling of the aircraft, and then came crashing down once the ‘drop’ ceased.

The hope will be that this is an anomaly – a ‘freak accident’ in casual parlance. If it is a systemic error either mechanical or electronic, then this is a larger concern for the airlines that fly Boeing Dreamliner 787 aircraft. Let’s hope it isn’t. If it is, it will pile on the woes to Boeing’s existing stack.

I have never paid more for airline tickets than I have in the last few months. Admittedly, mostly at very short notice (under a week – to the same day), I have paid over AU$500 for a flight on the Adelaide and Sydney route and closer to AU$600 for a flight from Melbourne to Sydney, both in Economy. Even at peak times and on short notice, pre-pandemic airfares were around half those figures.

To balance that out, during the pandemic, when travellers were rare, fares did return to below pre-pandemic levels. I just prepared some figures for my accountant and came across an airfare of AU$120 one-way on the Sydney-Adelaide route. I paid more than that in 1984 when I first moved to Sydney!

My hope is by this time (November) in 2023, both travel demand and airline seat supply have returned to the balance of pre-pandemic levels, resulting in an evening out of airfare prices, both domestically and internationally. If that happens, I’ll be doing a lot more flying.

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