SIA among best airlines in avoiding flight cancellations, Virgin Australia the worst

Singapore Airlines had the best record, scrapping just 0.1 per cent of planned services. PHOTO: ST FILE

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - Singapore Airlines has the best record among a group of 19 airlines around the world for avoiding flight cancellations, scrapping just 0.1 per cent of planned services, according to data from analytics company Cirium.

Virgin Australia cancelled the biggest proportion of flights in the three months through July 26, the data showed. It axed close to 2,200 flights, or 5.9 per cent of its schedule, compared with 1.4 per cent in the same period in 2019.

Passengers flying with Dutch carrier KLM are also suffering some of the biggest disruptions to travel as the understaffed aviation industry struggles to cope with a resurgence in demand, schedules show.

Air New Zealand, Sydney-based Qantas and Deutsche Lufthansa, Europe's biggest airline, rounded out the five that cancelled flights most often in the period.

The group of 19 airlines around the world that were assessed was the same one Qantas Airways uses to assess its performance against peers.

The group includes International Consolidated Airlines Group, the owner of British Airways and Iberia, and Qantas itself.

It is a relatively small cross-section of the world's airlines, which means there may be other, lesser-known carriers with patchier performance records.

The basket also excludes airlines from China, the world's second-largest aviation market before Covid-19, but which remains largely closed to international flights.

A supercharged rebound in bookings as Covid-19 travel restrictions ease has overwhelmed even the largest and most established names in aviation.

After laying off tens of thousands of pilots, flight crew, baggage handlers and security staff during the pandemic, the industry cannot hire fast enough to keep up. Analysts say it may be months before normal levels of service return.

KLM, the Dutch arm of Air France-KLM, said in a statement it cancelled flights for a variety of reasons, including a shortage of airport security staff.

It pointed to additional measures announced last month to ease the pressure, such as scrapping flights to Europe and restricting ticket sales. "We apologise to our affected passengers," the airline said.

Air New Zealand chief executive officer Greg Foran said the airline's schedule has been disrupted by severe weather and up to triple the normal rate of crew sickness.

"This certainly isn't the experience we want our customers to be having with us and we know that every cancellation has an impact," he said in a statement.

The airline is hiring more than 1,000 staff to strengthen operational resilience, he said.

Lufthansa said it is cancelling almost 3,000 flights over the summer in Frankfurt and Munich, but it is trying to avoid axing flights on a day-to-day basis to minimise the impact on passengers. "The aim is to offer a stable flight schedule," the airline said in a statement.

Virgin Australia, which operates the fewest overseas flights among the group, said it outperformed its closest rival Qantas on flight cancellations in the five months through June, based on Australian government data that Virgin uses to benchmark its domestic performance.

Qantas Domestic and International CEO Andrew David said cancellation rates are almost back to pre-Covid-19 levels. "We are seeing improvements, but we know we've got more work to do," he said.

Sydney airport has struggled to deal with a rebound in demand in a country desperate to fly again after closing its borders for two years. Qantas, Australia's largest carrier, and to a lesser extent Virgin, have become targets for social media abuse from disgruntled flyers.

Europe has also descended into travel chaos. London's Heathrow Airport, for example, has announced a two-month cap on daily passenger traffic to limit the turmoil and inconveniences such as stranded luggage. The problems are being exacerbated across the continent by strikes over pay and conditions.

British Airways has said it would cancel another 10,300 flights through the summer season, taking total cancellations from April to close to 30,000 flights.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.