Don’t like having your flight cancelled? Don’t fly Tiger. And, on the Sydney to Melbourne route, think twice about Qantas as well.
Analysing federal aviation statistics raises the suspicion Qantas is putting profit ahead of customers.
While increasing fares, Qantas also is increasingly cancelling flights on the world’s second-busiest domestic route.
That has the considerable advantage of boosting its load factor – shunting passengers off the flight they’ve booked to spare seats on flights either side of the desired time.
The more bums on seats of any one flight, the more profitable it is. The savings in fuel and landing charges for every cancelled flight are considerable, especially with the expensive Sydney to Melbourne route.
According to the latest Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics figures, Qantas last month cancelled 6.4 per cent of its scheduled flights between our two biggest cities.
That compares with 4 per cent of Virgin Australia flights, 2.9 per cent of Jetstar’s and 8.8 per cent of Tiger’s.
(In January, Tiger cancellations on the route hit an amazing 16.8 per cent. Of the 572 scheduled flights, 96 were cancelled. If you had booked a Tiger flight between the biggest capitals, there was one chance in six that it didn’t happen.
The budget airline is also the worst for on-time arrivals, managing it only 68 per cent of the time last year. So we’ll leave Tiger to only those whose flying is not time-sensitive.)
Bad weather on the route obviously disrupts flights and causes cancellations, especially if an airport is reduced to using a single runway.
A Qantas spokesperson said that the level of frequency on the MEL-SYD route meant Qantas was usually able to accommodate customers within one or two hours of their original flight time.
“For us, if we’re able to consolidate flights when there’s a lot of disruptions, it also means we can combine two 737s into one A330 service meaning we can get customers to their destination.
“But obviously we’d rather not cancel any flights.”
The trouble with only blaming weather is that it affects all airlines, and last month’s statistics are part of a trend.
On this vital trunk route in 2017, Qantas averaged 3.8 per cent cancellations. Over 2018, the average was 5.8 per cent. Over the first two months of this year, 6 per cent and now February, 6.4 per cent.
Virgin Australia’s cancellations have been heading in the other direction – 4.8 per cent in 2017, 4.4 per cent last year, 3.7 per cent so far this year and 4 per cent last month.
The cancellation percentage gap between Tiger and Qantas in February was the same as the gap between Qantas and Virgin.
Another curious aspect of the rising cancellation rate on this massively profitable route is how little other sectors out of Sydney and Melbourne are affected.
For example, on the next-busiest routes of Sydney to Brisbane and Melbourne to Brisbane, Qantas cancelled just 2.4 per cent and 0.3 per cent of flights last month respectively.
Indeed, for both major carriers, you’d be unlucky to be on a cancelled flight going anywhere except between Sydney and Melbourne.
Leaving out that route, Qantas only cancelled 0.9 per cent of its scheduled domestic flights last month. On the same basis, Virgin cancelled just 0.1 per cent.
Total national cancellations last year, including Sydney to Melbourne, ran at 1.9 per cent for Qantas and 1.7 per cent for Virgin. Jetstar scored 2.5 per cent and Tiger 3.5 per cent.
Total national cancellations last month were Qantas 2.3 per cent, Virgin 1.5, Jetstar 1.8 and Tiger 5.6.
Qantas and Virgin Australia were specifically asked if they ever cancelled flights on the SYD-MEL route to boost load factor, that is, not for weather or equipment-failure reasons.
They had not responded by the time of publication.