Passengers flying with Virgin Australia and Dutch carrier KLM are suffering some of the biggest disruptions to travel as the understaffed aviation industry struggles to cope with a resurgence in demand, timetables show.
Approaching a group of 19 airlines from around the world, the same one used by Qantas Airways Ltd to gauge its performance against its peers, Virgin Australia canceled the largest proportion of flights across the three months until July 26, according to data from the analysis company Cirium. . It cut nearly 2,200 flights, or 5.9% of its schedule, compared to 1.4% for the same period in 2019.
Air New Zealand Ltd., Sydney-based Qantas and Deutsche Lufthansa AG, Europe’s largest airline, rounded out the five most frequently canceling flights during the period. Singapore Airlines Ltd. had the best record, discarding only 0.1% of planned services.
A supercharged surge in bookings as Covid-19 travel restrictions ease has overwhelmed even the biggest and most established names in aviation. After laying off tens of thousands of pilots, flight crew, baggage handlers and security personnel during the pandemic, the industry can’t hire fast enough to keep up. Analysts say it could be months before normal service levels return.
The airlines assessed over the three-month period reflect those used by Qantas to benchmark its total shareholder return, according to the airline’s annual report. The group includes International Consolidated Airlines Group, which owns British Airways Plc and Iberia, and Qantas itself.
This is a relatively small cross-section of the world’s airlines, meaning there may be other lesser-known airlines with more spotty performance records. The basket also excludes airlines from China, the world’s second-largest aviation market before Covid, but which remains largely closed to international flights.
KLM, the Dutch arm of Air France-KLM, said in a statement that it canceled the flights for several reasons, including a shortage of airport security personnel. He pointed to additional measures announced last month to ease the pressure, including scrapping flights to Europe and restricting ticket sales. “We apologize to our affected passengers,” the airline said.
Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran said the airline’s schedule had been disrupted by bad weather and up to three times the normal rate of crew sickness. “This is certainly not the experience we want our customers to have with us and we know that every cancellation has an impact,” Foran said in a statement. The airline is hiring more than 1,000 workers to strengthen operational resilience, he said.
Lufthansa said it will cancel almost 3,000 flights over the summer in Frankfurt and Munich, but is trying to avoid eliminating flights on a day-to-day basis to minimize the impact on passengers. “The aim is to provide a stable flight schedule,” the airline said in a statement.
Virgin Australia, which operates the fewest overseas flights of the group, said it outpaced nearest rival Qantas in flight cancellations in the five months to June, based on Australian government data that Virgin used to compare their national performance. Qantas Domestic and International CEO Andrew David said cancellation rates were almost back to pre-Covid levels. “We’re seeing improvements, but we know we have more work to do,” he said.
Sydney Airport has struggled to cope with a surge in demand in a country desperate to get flying again after closing its borders for two years. Qantas, Australia’s largest carrier, and to a lesser extent Virgin, have become targets of social media abuse from disgruntled flyers.
Europe has also fallen into travel chaos. London’s Heathrow Airport, for example, has announced a two-month limit on daily passenger traffic to limit turbulence and inconveniences such as stranded luggage. Problems are being exacerbated across the continent by strikes over pay and conditions.
British Airways has said it would cancel a further 10,300 flights over the summer season, bringing its total cancellations since April to nearly 30,000 flights.