It was a summer of dramas. Wildfires prompted mass evacuations on Greek islands, industrial action hit UK airports, and a certain air traffic control blip affected hundreds of thousands of passengers on British aviation’s Black Monday.
The dust has now settled, the lost luggage returned, and the children are back to school. So which airlines emerged as the winners and losers over the summer holidays? And which airports proved the most and least reliable?
The aviation analysts at OAG provided Telegraph Travel with data across more than half a million flights from June 1, 2023 to September 3, 2023, covering 119 airlines departing from 48 UK airports. These were the winners and losers when it came to cancellations and delays.
Across 530,792 flights that took off and landed in the UK over the summer, 10,055 were cancelled, according to OAG. That amounts to an average of 1.9 per cent of all flights.
Poor weather was the most consistent cause for flight cancellations this summer. On June 11 and 12, Gatwick axed dozens of flights due to strong winds and thunderstorms. On August 24 and 25 (ahead of the Bank Holiday Weekend), inclement weather across Western Europe was to blame for hundreds more cancellations.
But then on Bank Holiday Monday, the chaos had a different cause entirely. Nearly a quarter of all flights were cancelled on August 28 due to an IT meltdown at NATS air traffic control, caused by a single rogue flight plan.
BA was among the worst
The flag carrier was the worst airline for cancellations, with 3,453 of its 90,322 summer flights scrapped – amounting to 3.8 per cent of all operations. Low-cost carrier easyJet wasn’t much better, with a 2.8 per cent cancellation rate. Of the other major airlines serving the UK, KLM, United, Eurowings and Loganair were the worst.
A spokesperson for BA said: “The vast majority of our customers travelled as planned this summer. Like all airlines though, we‘ve experienced significant delays to our operation, which have been caused by factors outside of our control, such as air traffic control restrictions, adverse weather conditions and the National Air Traffic Service’s outage last month. We’ve apologised to customers who experienced disruption and don’t underestimate how frustrating this is for them.”
British Airways might struggle more than other airlines because it has a more complex operation than many airlines, operating both long-haul and short-haul to 65 countries. London Heathrow is one of the most slot-constrained airports in the world, and since 2022 British Airways says it has experienced an 85 per cent increase in the number of cancellations out of their control.
The most reliable? Jet2
Telegraph readers named Jet2 the best short-haul airline in our 2023 Telegraph Travel Awards, and we can see why. The airline cancelled only 57 of its 38,986 summer operations, amounting to 0.1 per cent of all flights. This matched the record of Tui, which cancelled just 5 of its 2,346 services. Ryanair also performed well.
London City was the worst airport
The UK airport with the worst record for cancellations was London City, with 576 of its 13,124 summer flights (4.4 per cent) scrapped. Gatwick was the worst of the biggest airports, with 2.6 per cent of its operations falling by the wayside. Heathrow was marginally better, with 2.3 per cent of flights canned.
A London City spokesperson said: “The Civil Aviation Authority’s punctuality statistics for the first half of 2023 show that London City was the most punctual of all London airports. There were a number of exceptional circumstances that led to cancellations this summer, which are outside of our control, including the air traffic control incident and weather issues in London and Europe, which represents a large share of our route network.”
Stansted and East Midlands came top
The regional East Midlands airport, located between Derby, Nottingham and Loughborough, came out best for cancellations, with only 39 of its 8,115 flights (0.5 per cent) axed over the summer months. Stansted also did well, with just 262 of its 48,841 flights (0.5 per cent) cancelled. Leeds Bradford and Birmingham were two of the other high performers.
If you went on holiday this summer, the chances are that you were delayed. Of the 530,792 flights that took off or landed in the UK, OAG says just 230,376 were on time (ie. within 15 minutes of its scheduled slot) – just 43.4 per cent. That means millions of hours of precious holiday lost.
The punctuality varied hugely, with some airlines struggling to depart on time 10 per cent of the time, while one German low-cost carrier had a near-perfect record.
Wizz, Tui and Ryanair struggled
There was certainly room for improvement for some airlines. OAG’s data suggested Wizz Air managed to depart or arrive on time on just 7.8 per cent of its services. The airline contested the statistics, insisting that “almost half” of departures and “almost 40 per cent” of arrivals were on time. It added: “The majority of delays were due to issues outside of Wizz Air’s control, such as the recent ATC fault, meaning these statistics are not an accurate representation of our overall performance.”
Tui fared slightly better, with a 17.6 per cent punctuality record; the Telegraph approached Tui for comment and await a response. Of the three biggest airlines serving UK airports – Ryanair, easyJet and BA – Ryanair performed the worst with just a third (31.8 per cent) of its 91,897 flights departing or arriving on time. A spokesperson for Ryanair said it was “the UK’s number one airline with the fewest cancellations (less than 0.5 per cent) and best on time performance (almost 90 per cent)” but added: “Unfortunately, French air traffic control strikes and NATS unacceptable system failure has caused unnecessary disruption to UK passengers this summer.”
Jet2 a top performer, but it wasn’t the best
Of the major airlines jetting British families to Europe, Jet2 performed the best this summer with 57.7 per cent of its flights taking off or arriving on time. For transatlantic flights, Virgin Atlantic (71.6 per cent were punctual) and American Airlines (78.6 per cent) did very well.
But Eurowings flies above them all, with a punctuality record that is almost too good to be true. Of its 3,282 flights that operated to and from the UK during the summer, 3,187 were on time – 97.1 per cent. Indeed, the low-cost German carrier has topped the charts for many consecutive years. The only other European airlines in the top 10 are Wideroe (a Norwegian airline) and Spain’s flag carrier, Iberia.
Heathrow was above average, but Aberdeen was the best
Of the UK’s major airports, Heathrow was the best for sidestepping delays and keeping passengers on time: 50.4 per cent of departures took off punctually, and 56.3 per cent of arrivals, for an overall average of 53.3 per cent. Aberdeen, Liverpool and London City also saw more than half of their departures and arrivals running on time.
The worst major airport? Luton
The UK’s sixth busiest airport, Luton, was the worst for delays. Some 35.5 per cent of its departures were on time, while just 22 per cent of flights arrived at the airport on schedule. Edinburgh, Gatwick and Birmingham also scored a punctuality average of less than 40 per cent.
A Luton Airport spokesperson said: “Flights can be delayed for a variety of reasons, most of which are often outside our direct control, such as weather, air traffic restrictions and the late arrival of an aircraft. During this period, the primary causes of delay were air traffic control restrictions and late inbound aircraft.”