Horror stories of waking up on the day of your long-awaited holiday to find a “Your flight has been cancelled” message seem omnipresent as we move into summer.
Though airlines – including British Airways, easyJet and Wizz Air – are only cancelling a small percentage of their total planned flights each week, there is an ongoing trend for both advance and last-minute axing of flights to and from the UK.
The airlines have given a range of reasons for the chaos, from staff shortages and absences to slow recruitment processes for new crew and air traffic control issues at certain airports.
So can you avoid the last-minute nerves and guarantee yourself a good start to your holiday?
Here’s what we know from the cancellation data.
Avoid flying from Gatwick and Bristol
According to data from Cirium, Gatwick had by far the most cancellations of departing flights in both May and June 2022 – 249 total during May, and 248 in the first 14 days of June alone. That’s compared to 146 and 62 at Heathrow, and 93 and 85 respectively for Manchester. Gatwick has been operating around 800 flights a day this spring (this week announcing a daily cap of 825-850 for July and August), so these departing flight cancellations only represent around 1 per cent of total flights being cancelled. (Heathrow is operating around 35,100 flights a month, so its 93 departing flights cancelled in May is about 0.3 per cent of total flights). But with clear operational problems causing the cap on flights handled, avoiding Gatwick is a savvy move.
In June, Bristol Airport saw 119 flights cancelled in the first two weeks – with around 300 flights handled per day, that’s just under 3 per cent of services axed. Going from a smaller airport could help, while Stansted has remained the most resilient London airport: the airports with the fewest cancellations during May were London Stansted, Jersey and Teeside (just six each), while in the first two weeks of June the Isle of Man, Inverness and Humberside each saw six or seven cancellations, with Stansted performing worse but still well with just 14.
Avoid easyJet and BA short-haul
The worst performing airline for cancellations in the past six weeks, by a long stretch, has been easyJet – according to Cirium, it cancelled 932 departing flights from the UK between 1 May and 14 June 2022. For comparison, British Airways (including its CityFlyer subsidiary) cancelled the next largest amount: 195 in those six weeks. Most of the BA routes affected were domestic or short-haul European routes (see below). Domestic UK airline Loganair had the third highest number of cancellations for departing flights in this six-week period, with 147 services scrapped. Other airlines in the top 10 for cancellations May-June include SAS, Tui, Lufthansa and Eastern Airways.
Fly Ryanair or Jet2
On the other hand, despite operating a huge network, Ryanair did not appear in the top 10 for airlines with the most flight cancellations in either month. Bloomberg journalist Conrad Quilty-Harper championed the blue budget carrier on Twitter this week, reasoning: “EasyJet and British Airways have been experiencing the most problems with May’s IT issues leading to many cancelled flights. Ryanair’s schedule has been relatively resilient!”
It’s true that Ryanair seems largely unaffected by the current spate of flight cancellations – some in the industry have suggested this is because it made minimal redundancies in the pandemic, agreeing pay cuts and work practice changes with pilots instead. Thus it hasn’t had to “scale up” with new – and potentially reluctant – recruits in the same way that BA and easyJet have. Jet2 similarly did not appear in the top 10 for flight cancellations, while its rivals easyJet, Wizz Air and Tui all did.
Fly on Tuesdays and avoid Mondays
More sage advice from Mr Quilty-Harper, who says: “Fly on a Tuesday, not Sunday, although the gains are marginal.” His analysis of flight cancellations over the 30 days from 9 May and 7 June found the largest gap between the number of scheduled flights and those which actually departed was on Sundays, a difference of 6.6 per cent. Tuesday was the best day for most scheduled flights taking off, though there was still a 5.5 per cent difference. There’s also some pricing logic behind this tip: Tuesday is one of the cheapest days to fly.
This is one situation in which a 14-hour flight might actually be less stressful than a 40-minute one. According to analysis by The Independent and data from Cirium, a number of repeat routes have been cancelled by British Airways and easyJet in the past six weeks, including Belfast, the Isle of Man, Scotland Italy, Spain and the Canary Islands, Portugal and Turkey. No long-haul flights have been affected by the repeat cancellations caused by staff shortages, so if you’re flying, say, BA to New York from Heathrow, your odds are much better. One mid-haul exception is Hurghada in Egypt, which easyJet has cancelled all flights to from now until the end of July.
Avoid the Netherlands
Both KLM and Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport have been having a tough time during the last two months, with KLM cancelling dozens of flights from the hub due to operational issues. According to Cirium data, KLM’s CityHopper brand cancelled the third most flights in May 2022 and the fourth most in the first two weeks of June. Yesterday, Schiphol Airport limited the number of passengers it will handle this summer to 70,000 a day – around 16 per cent fewer than airlines had planned to serve during this period. A shortage of security workers and baggage handlers at the airport has seen knock-on effects which are causing daily disruption.