Flight delays and cancellations continue to plague travellers weeks out from Christmas, and one expert is now warning airport chaos will continue internationally and domestically for some time.
Last Friday, Anna* experienced two flight cancellations with Virgin Australia as she tried to travel from Sydney Airport to the Gold Coast for a weekend away.
She never made it to her destination – even with a 24-hour delay.
“I was at the airport for a 2pm flight to the Gold Coast on Friday,” she told 9news.com.au.
“We saw it was cancelled on the departures board and were told to wait for a text.
“That text put us on a flight 24 hours later.
“Hardly ideal for a weekend away.”
Anna said the scenes at the airport were chaotic as customers became increasingly angry at the delays.
“The queue at the Virgin Australia desk inside the departures terminal was insane and customers were livid,” she said.
“I ended up exiting security and going outside to the check-in counter.
“We were put on a 5pm flight to Brisbane which also got cancelled after the gate was opened and just as we were about to board.”
Anna said she has no complaint with Virgin Australia ground staff as they tried to get her answers, to no avail.
She was granted a full refund, but expressed concerns about what the delays and cancellations mean for Christmas plans.
“I asked the ground crew what was happening and they said their staff got moved to another flight,” she said.
“I asked if it was COVID-related and they said they didn’t know.”
Virgin Australia told 9news.com.au flights last week were impacted by “weather events and operational reasons”.
“We sincerely apologise to all guests whose travel plans have been impacted and where guests haven’t already been recovered, we are in the process of contacting them to offer alternative travel options,” a spokesperson said.
“We have seen huge demand as Australians get back in the air to reconnect with friends and family and enjoy the wonderful travel experiences we all missed out on during the pandemic.
“Where it is possible, we encourage our customers to book early to secure the best price possible.”
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Airport chaos to continue for ‘some time yet’
With Australia’s first COVID-free Christmas in years on the cards, demand for domestic and international travel is spiking and economy airfares for domestic flights have soared to record highs.
In a report released in September, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) found the cost of domestic airfares was soaring as airlines cut flights to ease pressure.
“There was a significant spike in cancelled and delayed flights in the middle of the year, as explained in our September 2022 Airline Competition in Australia report,” a spokesperson told 9news.com.au.
“In October 2022, 2.9 per cent of domestic flights were cancelled, down from 3.4 per cent in September and compared to the long-term average of 2.1 per cent.
“(But) delayed flights remain an issue, with 30.1 per cent of flights arriving late in October, down from 31.7 per cent in September and compared to the long-term average of 18.2 per cent.”
International aviation consultant Neil Hansford told 9news.com.au high flight costs and delays will continue for “some time yet”.
He explained there are several bottlenecks impacting airports.
One of the major ones is staff shortages due to a lack of applicants.
This is being felt across all aspects of aviation – from pilots to security and particularly in baggage handling.
Major airlines like Qantas and Virgin Australia have reduced flight availability as a result of these factors and consumer grievances, particularly during June and July.
“Security people and airport can’t get enough labour,” Hansford said.
“And we all want to travel at the one time, so we get the queues.”
Hansford added some of the blame lies with “dumb” leisure travellers, who are booking on high-demand days to maximise their holiday time.
“Everybody wants to travel for leisure on a Monday morning, Friday afternoon, or Sunday evening – guess what, that’s when the business traveller is travelling,” he said.
“When they buy a ticket, it’s the company’s money, they don’t care, they will pay what the ruling price is.
“If that leisure traveller was to fly on a Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning, surprise – those prices are going to be a whole lot less.
“The other thing is they want to travel at the busiest times so, of course, the queues will be longer.”
Hansford said travellers should be flexible with the days they travel and look for cheap flights online ahead of time to avoid delays on busy travel days.
*Name changed to protect identity