Flight Cancellations Are Hitting Airlines Hard, Except This Australian Carrier

Hint: it isn't Qantas or Virgin...

Flight Cancellations Are Hitting Airlines Hard, Except This Australian Carrier

Image Credit: Live & Let's Fly

Statistics from June 2022 suggest Rex is the least likely Australian domestic airline (if the statistical trend continues) to screw you over with a flight cancellation right now. Qantas subsidiary Jetstar came in second, with the (second) lowest rate of cancellations of late, with Virgin Australia in third, and Qantas in fourth.

According to the Australian Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts, Rex has had the lowest percentage of flight cancellations for June 2022 out of all Australia’s airlines. Rex has a total of 0.7%, while Jetstar had 5.5%, Virgin Australia had 5.8% and Qantas had 7.5%.

Weather and COVID-19-related issues (including illness, staff shortages and – allegedly – staff attrition rates) contributed to the poor performance across the board.

A spokesperson for Qantas told the ABC: “These flight delays and cancellations are not the kind of performance that we were delivering pre-COVID and we know they are not at the level that our customers expect.”

Qantas also pointed out that Sydney Airport was reduced to a single runway for five days because of strong winds and said that “there were also staff shortages across the whole aviation industry including air traffic control, which reduced landing and take off rates on seven days during the month at airports around the country.”

“Everyone at Qantas and Jetstar is focused on turning this performance around… We’re already seeing improvements and things will continue to get better month-on-month,” a Qantas spokesperson said.

“Call centre wait times are now better than they were pre-COVID and our mishandled bag rates are close to what they were before the pandemic.”

Qantas spokesperson
Table showing performance of Australian airlines in June 2022. Credit: Australian Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts

Rex, which has had the fewest cancellations of late, believes this could be past trade-offs coming back to bite the bigger airlines like Qantas and Virgin Australia. Rex says it was the only airline that didn’t sack staff during the pandemic (Rex admits it had to stand several hundred down at one point, but claims it didn’t sack them, so as soon as things improved it was able to stand back up again) and actually employed an additional 500 people during the pandemic (for comparison, Qantas and Virgin stood down thousands of employees).

Rex believes its growth strategy means it doesn’t have the same staff shortages which are now crippling Qantas and Virgin Australia. They also don’t outsource things like baggage handling (Rex says it has made a conscious decision to keep that in-house) thereby maintaining the skillsets of those very professional people.

Although Rex operates far fewer flights than Qantas and Virgin Australia, Rex believes it’s not necessarily the case that this is why its flight cancellation rate is currently much lower. Rex actually has a lot of movement through Sydney airport (where a lot of other airlines’ issues have stemmed from) too, because that’s where its regional network predominately operates from.

Rex attributes its fortunate position to its growth strategy and good morale – and acknowledges their time to experience back luck could also come knocking. Rex admits the other carriers have been dogged by bad luck and compounding issues outside of their control – from weather to staff sickness – and acknowledges it might also be affected by circumstances beyond its control at some point.

As for how Rex was able to employ an extra 500 people during the pandemic, DMARGE understands they stuck to the plan they had in place to grow the business. Rex was also the recipient of federal government assistance (though significantly less than Qantas, as they are a much smaller airline) which allowed them to continue to operate regional routes to ensure those remote regional communities remained connected to the larger cities.

Professor Rico Merkert (Chair in Transport and Supply Chain Management and Deputy Director of the Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies at Sydney University), for his part, told DMARGE: “I am not sure cancellations is the issue. The June 2022 data suggests that whilst Qantas is with 7.5% cancellations slightly worse than Virgin Australia (5.8%), it is the on-time performance of both arrivals and departures (that is with just 62% of scheduled flights operating on time) that is currently a lot worse than last years’ performance.”

Professor Merkert continued: “Rex Airlines performs best with slightly more than 80% of their flights on-time but that is to be expected given their simpler network, less hub-traffic and no international flights. That all said, I have just returned from 3 weeks of travelling within Europe and let me assure you that things are a lot worse over there.”

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So, if you are getting hot and bothered over poor airline performance here in Australia, spare a thought for those in Europe. As Professor Merkert told DMARGE of his recent experience: “Every single flight or train service we used over there was either cancelled, disrupted, or massively delayed (mainly due to industrial action but also the heat wave).”

“As such, I agree with the CEO of Qatar Airways, who recently said that the Travel Chaos of long-distance travel will likely persist for at least another 12 months, whilst the industry adjusts to the new normal and deals with staff shortages and industrial action (due to inflationary pressures etc.)”

Professor Rico Merkert

There you have it. The grass isn’t always greener.

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