Flight cancellations: Australia’s best and worst

Andrew Munro 27 June 2017 NEWS

airport cancellation

Flight cancellations broken down by airline and airport.

There's nothing worse than a flight cancellation, especially with all the carry-over effects. You might miss your connecting flights, be pre-booked in a hotel you can't use or your luggage might go on to travel the world while you're left behind.

finder.com.au ran the numbers on airports and airlines around Australia to see where most flight cancellations happen and when they're more likely to occur. Information is based on averages since 2010 and on data from the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development.

Depending on where and when you travel, and who you're flying with, the odds of cancellation might be just a fraction of a percent or over 3%. It might sound like good odds, but even half a percent can mean hundreds of cancelled flights and thousands of passengers left waiting.

The airlines with the most cancellations

It's not fair to look at who has the highest number of cancellations because carriers with a lot more flights will obviously top the list. A better measure is the percentage of flights that never take off.

Carrier Cancellation % average since 2010 Cancellation % in 2016 alone Cancellation % in May 2017 alone
QantasLink 2.32% 2.5% 1.3%
Jetstar 1.70% 1.9% 0.6%
Virgin Australia 1.66% 1.9% 1.4%
Virgin Australia Regional Airlines 1.66% 1.3% 0.3%
Tigerair Australia 1.45% 0.9% 0.7%
Qantas 1.38% 1.2% 0.6%
Regional Express 0.45% 0.6% 1.2%

As you can see, the results are quite different when you're looking at the long-term (since 2010) info, the numbers for 2016 alone or even just the data for the month of May in 2017.

Note that when we say better and worse, or best and worst, at any point on this page, it simply refers to statistical performance regarding flight cancellations. It doesn't take into account other factors like who has the cheapest flights (Tigerair and Jetstar are now offering flights from $35 and from $39 respectively).

  • Is airline performance getting better or worse? It might seem like airlines are really stepping up their game by looking at May alone, but this was mostly just an outstanding month all around (as May usually is), with the rate of on-time flights being well up and the rate of cancellations being well down. When you look at the 2016 data, it's also clear that airlines have good years and bad years. For example, their terminal at a major airport might be under renovation one year, or they might be experiencing hiccups in a new maintenance agreement. Overall, looking at the long-term performance is probably a good way to pick out the best and worst for cancellations.
  • Who's doing the best and worst overall? Qantas is maintaining a great long-term record, but the short-haul QantasLink is definitely struggling to keep on schedule. With the other dedicated regional carriers experiencing no such issues, it's looking like this might actually be due to solvable internal factors rather than just quirks of fate.

Best and worst airports

Karratha Airport in WA was head and shoulders above (below?) the rest, with almost 0.5% more of its flights cancelled on average than anyone else.

Australia's worst airports
Airport Flights since 2010 Cancellations since 2010 Cancellation %
Karratha 51,320 1,782 3.47%
Gladstone 43,210 1,294 2.99%
Canberra 270,584 7,388 2.73%
Rockhampton 64,234 1,636 2.55%
Sydney 1,424,462 29,424 2.07%
Australia's best airports
Airport Flights since 2010 Cancellations since 2010 Cancellation %
Darwin 52,164 284 0.54%
Wagga Wagga 40,284 220 0.55%
Albury 46,382 360 0.78%
Dubbo 45,994 376 0.82%
Cairns 168,986 1,386 0.82%

The spread among Australia's five worst airports is much more than among the five best, suggesting that there are definitely steps airports can take to reduce flight cancellations, but at a certain point it's simply out of their hands.

  • Size matters. There are only a couple of Australian airports that have seen more than a million flights since 2010. These are Sydney (about 1.42 million) and Melbourne (1.16 million), which placed 5 and 6 respectively on the most-cancelled airports list. Brisbane is also coming close to breaking the million mark, with over 966,000 flights since 2010 and a relatively high cancellation rate of 1.51%. More flights mean more complications, but kudos to Cairns Airport for maintaining an enviable record despite the high volume.
The best and worst times to travel

Fly in May and you can enjoy a sterling record of low cancellations and punctual flights. Or wait a month until June to find yourself flying at the worst possible time.

Month Flights since 2010 Cancellations since 2010 Cancellation %
June 560,098 12,294 2.19%
July 603,539 11,183 1.85%
December 589,835 9,923 1.68%
January 641,514 10,586 1.65%
February 602,334 9,625 1.60%
October 604,885 9,661 1.60%
September 588,865 9,201 1.56%
August 593,484 8,946 1.51%
April 575,204 8,638 1.50%
November 579,846 8,354 1.44%
March 583,828 7,931 1.36%
May 577,169 7,704 1.33%
  • There's a fine line. Don't you hate travelling in December and other holiday periods? Everything's so crowded. However, in absolute terms, there's not much of a difference in total volume, showing just how fine the line is between crowded and too-crowded. It's all about the behind-the-scenes adjustments and preparations that airports and airlines carry out.
  • Preparation is everything. April, May and June are clustered together as the least-crowded times to fly, but this doesn't translate into fewer cancellations. Instead, June actually has the most on average. Similarly, the busy months don't mean more cancellations either. Carriers and airports are well-practised at scaling things up in anticipation of bigger crowds and know how to keep things running smoothly.

What does it all mean?

If there's one lesson to be learned, it's that you can run into cancellations any time of the year and at any airport. There are no sneaky ways to get around them or reduce the risk.

However, the chances vary considerably at different airports or among different airlines and it's clear that they can, and should, take steps to facilitate smooth travel wherever possible. The actual results of these efforts can vary a lot, however.

For cancelled flights there aren't many preventative measures, but there are definitely some cures. You might take a closer look at the terms and conditions of the airline you're flying on as well as the reimbursement you might be entitled to, if any, following a cancellation or delay. You might also take out travel insurance with cancellation cover a bit sooner before departure, instead of leaving it until the last minute.

By doing so, you might find it easier to get reimbursement for the flight costs themselves as well as for prepaid connecting flights that you missed, re-booking fees, prepaid tours or accommodation that you'll have to miss or unrecoverable deposits.

And if your luggage ends up going on a round-the-world trip without you, you can simply wish it all the best and claim emergency essentials on your travel cover as well as the losses if you end up never seeing it again.

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