Plan ahead: The worse UK airports for cancellations right now

Jul 5, 2022

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Anybody who’s been through a British airport in the past few months knows the deal: aviation is in a funk.

Long queues and flight delays are two issues we’ve come to expect when planning for a holiday, while cancellations are one we’ve come to fear.

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The reasons for the problems are varied and complex, but at their heart lies a chronic staffing crisis that has wobbled the entire industry at a time when demand for international travel is at a seasonal and, according to some, unprecedented high. As a result many airports and airlines have struggled to maintain the schedules they’ve promised.

Last week we reported on which airlines flying out of the U.K. were worst for cancellations in June. Today, we’re turning the spotlight onto airports.

Using data scraped by aviation analytics firm Cirium, we’ve managed to draw lots of insights on which airports, in particular, are performing the worst, and which ones may not actually be performing as badly as most media would suggest.

Let’s dive in.

A shocker for Gatwick

Unsurprisingly, Gatwick fared the worst last month with 430 cancellations out of 11,298 scheduled departures — giving Gatwick a cancellation rate of 3.81% of all flights scheduled at the airport.

This may not seem like a lot in isolation but the figure actually accounts for almost a quarter (22.4%) of the total number of flight cancellations across the country in June.

Related: These three airlines are less likely to cancel your flight right now

It’s fair to say that as Britain’s second-busiest airport, one would expect Gatwick’s figures to be near the top end of the table. But when you consider that Gatwick accounts for 14% of all British departures, a 22.4% cancellation rate in June is disproportionately high.

The issue is further highlighted when compared with the performance of London Stansted, Britain’s fourth-busiest airport, where just 30 of 7,111 (0.42%) scheduled flights were cancelled. That’s 1.6% of all cancellations across Britain.

So what’s going on at Gatwick?

Last week, Gatwick announced 4,000 flights will be cancelled over the peak summer months in a bid to avoid more chaos, as the airport grapples with a worker shortfall.

Last week, Gatwick announced 4,000 flights will be culled over the peak summer months as the airport grapples with the worker shortages you’ve heard so much about in recent weeks.

Gatwick flights are set to be capped at 825 a day in July and 850 a day in August to avoid further cancellation misery for UK holidaymakers.

Stewart Wingate, Gatwick chief executive, said: “By taking decisive action now, we aim to help the ground handlers, and also our airlines, to better match their flying programmes with resources.”

Related: The key dates for when travel is set to be disrupted in Europe this Summer

Gatwick’s woes aren’t entirely its own making, however. They are compounded by its close relationship with the beleaguered budget carrier easyJet, which slashed 742 flights in June across the U.K airports it flies from.

An embarrassment of complications — many of its own making – has dragged easyJet’s reputation through the mud of late, resulting in the easyJet COO Peter Bellew’s resignation this week.

More recently the low-cost airline has suffered a series of airline staff strikes in Spain that look set to continue into July. So far easyJet has cancelled around 10,000 flights this summer.

Gatwick’s woes aren’t just of its own making, however. They have been compounded by its close relationship with the beleaguered budget carrier easyJet (Image courtesy of easyJet).

But back to Gatwick. It is important to note that while the London airport suffered the most cancellations last month a little more than 96% of Gatwick’s scheduled departures did actually take off in June.

In that context its rate of cancellation remains low relative to its timetable. However, we would caveat that the figures we have do not reflect how many of those flights were delayed.

Related: Are you entitled to compensation if your flight is affected by strikes?

Heathrow woe

In June, Heathrow reported 352 cancellations out of 17,156 scheduled departures — a cancellation rate of 2.05%. Heathrow accounted for 21.2% of Britain’s departures and hosted 18.3% of U.K. flight cancellations in June.

Towards the end of June the airport even ordered airlines to cancel a number of flights as they buckled under passenger demand.

The rare “schedule intervention” from Britain’s busiest airport saw 30 flights scrapped in a single morning, during peak travel hours. Some passengers did not find out their flights were cancelled until they arrived at Heathrow.

A large proportion of the cancellations at Heathrow were British Airways flights, which came second on our list of worst-performing airlines in June.

Related: EasyJet confirms it will be cancelling hundreds more summer flights

In response to the turmoil, a Heathrow spokesperson said this week: “We are working hard to ensure everyone has a smooth journey through Heathrow this summer, and the most important thing is to make sure that all service providers at the airport have enough resources to meet demand.”

Heathrow has been under such pressure of late that, on 29 June, it ordered airlines to cancel flights because it could not handle the numbers due to travel (Image by Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Manic Manchester

In third for most cancellations came Manchester Airport (MAN).

The northern airport’s staffing troubles have been in the press a lot of late. In April, firefighters were even drafted in to help unload baggage from planes to plug the staffing hole.

In May, Charlie Cornish, Manchester Airports Group (MAG) boss, issued a candid apology, admitting that the staffing crisis meant service was suffering.  But there are hopes bosses at Manchester Airport are getting to grips with things.

The airport hosted 149 cancellations out of 7,799 scheduled departures in June — a relatively low cancellation rate of 1.91% when placed in context of their schedule.

It is harder to say the same for Bristol. At fourth in the table, a relatively large 4.35% (141) of the hub’s 3,114 planned departures were grounded in June. And this weekend, there were fresh cancellations at Bristol, pre-empted by strikes at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport over the weekend.

Luton, Edinburgh and Glasgow have all suffered from this issue too, either directly or through airlines whose own staff deficits have caused flights to be grounded.

Then there is London City Airport, where 6.08% of 2,220 scheduled flights in June were cancelled. That represents 135 axed flights, or 7% of the national total.

It may not seem quite as high as the numbers seen at Gatwick and Heathrow but proportionately speaking, it is fairly concerning given that the Isle of Dogs hub accounted for 2.75% of the nation’s timetabled traffic last month.

Much of the issues could be due to British Airways subsidiary BA Cityflyer, the airport’s largest operator. BA Cityflyer abandoned 134 flights out of a scheduled 1,951 (6.87% of BA Cityflyer’s schedule) during the past month.

London’s smallest airport has seen growing complaints about long waits to get through customs in recent weeks, with claims as recently as today of three-hour-long queues.

“Big chaos at LCY,” tweeted one frustrated traveller. “Three hours to get through security at 6am. Better to fly out of Stansted with a low-cost carrier. Totally out of control, what a mess. This used to be a prime service. All gone wrong. Terrible.”

Stansted’s success might be linked to its close relationship with Ryanair, which uses the Cambridgeshire hub as its main U.K. base of operations (Photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

A spokesperson for the airport conversely claimed that: “‘The average journey time through the airport was 45 minutes this morning.”

“This is longer than usual and was caused by staff sickness and additional passengers who were rebooked onto LCY services from other airports. We apologise for any inconvenience caused. For passengers travelling through London City in the days ahead, to help manage waiting times, we would like to remind them to turn up no more than two hours before their flight.”

They added: “Looking ahead, the airport will be fully staffed, and operationally ready, for the summer getaway.”

Super Stansted?

But it’s not all doom and gloom, one of the best performers of the list is (perhaps, surprisingly?) Stansted, which experienced an impressive 0.42% of cancelled flights.

Just as Gatwick’s problems have a lot to do with easyJet, Stansted’s success might be linked to its close relationship with Ryanair, which uses the Cambridgeshire hub as its main U.K. base of operations.

Ryanair has remained relatively immune to the staffing issues affecting many of its rivals and has managed to fulfil a relatively robust and cancellation-light timetable. Much so that TPG recently listed them as one of the three most reliable airlines flying out of the U.K. right now.

In fact, last week, Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary said his low-cost airline has been “completely unaffected” by the issues that have impacted competitors because it saw the post-Covid “recovery coming” and brought staff back to work in anticipation.

Top 10 worst airports for cancellations – June, 2022

Airport

Cancelled departures

Scheduled departures

% of cancellations on services

1. London Gatwick 430 11,298 3.81%
2. London Heathrow  352 17,156 2.05%
3. Manchester  149 7,799 1.91%
4. Bristol  141 3,114 4.35%
5. London Luton 140 4,354 3.22%
6. London City 135 2,220 6.08%
7. Edinburgh 97 4,398 2.21%
8. Glasgow  80 2,845 2.81%
9. Birmingham  47 3,485 1.35%
10. London Stansted 30 7,111 0.42%
NATIONAL TOTAL 1,921 80,551 2.38%

Source: Cirium

Bottom line

Queues, delays and cancellations show little sign of slowing this summer as airports continue to wrestle with a raft of shortages.

It is important to remember, however, that cancellations may not all be the fault of airports. The airport-airline relationship is symbiotic, after all. Given the myriad of issues that airlines are currently facing — particularly staff shortages and strike action — airports cannot be blamed for all cancellations that occur on their watch.

Gatwick and Heathrow, for example, are the main hubs for easyJet and British Airways respectively, who are two of the worst-performing airlines in Britain right now.

One silver lining, though, is that the U.K. government is finally attempting to crack down on last-minute cancellations through various measures outlined in a recent 22-point plan. Whether airlines actually comply with the amnesty, however, is another matter.

Related: Will the UK government’s 22-point plan to fix the travel crisis actually work?

Featured photo by Getty Images.

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