UK flight punctuality still below pre-Covid levels despite surge in air fares

UK flight punctuality still below pre-Covid levels despite surge in air fares
There were more last-minute flight cancellations in 2023 than there have been for eight years (Image credit: @tiagozr/Adobe Stock)

Flight punctuality at UK airports has dropped below pre-pandemic levels despite recent hikes in air fares, new figures show.

According to UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) data, only 64 per cent of flights took off or landed within 15 mins of their planned time in 2023 – compared to 75 per cent in 2019.

The air traffic control failures in the UK and Europe in August last year, which left around a quarter of a million passengers stranded abroad, are said to have been one of the biggest hurdles to timely departures last year.

Labour shortages and industrial action across Europe last year have also continued to hinder the aviation industry.

Figures from the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveal that average fares for UK flights between July and September 2023 cost 24 per cent more year-on-year compared to 2022.

Anna Bowles, head of consumer policy and enforcement at the CAA, said: “As passenger numbers return to pre-pandemic levels it is important that on-time performance continues to improve to ensure that passengers receive the service they deserve and expect.

“We also want to make sure that passengers are protected by equipping them with essential advice and ensuring they are aware of their rights before they go on holiday.”

The CAA added it is “reminding airports and airlines of their obligations to passengers”.

But consumer champion Which?, a frequent critic of the UK airline industry, has slammed the sector for offering passengers “abysmal service” despite recent hikes in air fares.

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “It’s completely unacceptable that UK travellers are paying sky high air fares only to receive abysmal service in return.

“At the record prices we’re currently seeing, every customer should be enjoying a first class experience, but these latest figures show it’s much more likely they’ll find themselves stranded in the airport after a last-minute flight cancellation.”“It’s essential that airlines get their act together and start delivering on the service they’ve promised to customers – including ensuring they’re investing properly in their customer service teams,” he continued.

“When delays and cancellations do occur, there can be no justification for airlines failing to meet their legal obligations – including promptly refunding or rerouting customers, and ensuring they are offered meals and accommodation as required.”

In the final three months of 2023, the airport with the worst punctuality was Gatwick, where only 63 per cent of flights were on time.

Edinburgh, Heathrow and Stansted airports followed, where 63 per cent of flights were on time.

According to the CAA, there were more last-minute flight cancellations in 2023 than there have been for eight years, not counting 2020 when travel was disrupted due to coronavirus.

Data provided by the regulator also showed that 1.8 per cent of flights at UK airports were cancelled within 24 hours of the scheduled departure – double the 2019 figure.

Meanwhile, around 276 million people flew through UK airports in 2023 – 23 per cent more than the 224 million in 2022, but still 8 per cent less than the 300 million in 2019.