Qantas has apologised for the “unacceptably high” rate of cancelled flights between Canberra and Sydney after it was revealed nearly 15 per cent of flights between the two cities in August didn’t take off.
Of 972 flights scheduled between Canberra and Sydney last month, 143 were cancelled, or 14.7 per cent of the total. In comparison, Qantas cancelled 11 per cent of flights between the two cities in July.
“We know how disappointing cancellations and delays are for customers and we apologise to anyone impacted,” a Qantas spokesperson told Region.
“Our cancellation rate across Australia continues to be lower than our major domestic competitor, but our cancellations on Canberra-Sydney were unacceptably high in August.”
Canberra to Sydney had the highest percentage of cancellations of any domestic route in Australia.
Cancellation rates were far lower for the 37 other routes Qantas runs between Australian airports, including the Melbourne to Sydney service, one of the busiest air routes in the world.
There were also considerably fewer cancelled flights in other routes operating out of Canberra – for example, Qantas ran 354 flights between Brisbane and Canberra, and only eight services were cancelled over the month.
Qantas cancelled more than three times as many flights from Canberra to Sydney as its rival Virgin Australia in July, which uses Link Airways aircraft and crew to operate the same route.
“While we try hard to avoid any delays or cancellations, our next priority is to minimise the total impact on passengers as much as possible. This means higher frequency routes like Canberra-Sydney, where customers can be moved to a flight within an hour or so, have higher cancellations and lower frequency routes like Canberra-Adelaide and Canberra-Melbourne have lower cancellations,” the spokesperson said.
“We are working hard to improve services on our Canberra to Sydney route, and cancellations have reduced this month. We expect this improved performance to continue for the months ahead.”
Qantas has already come under fire for its high cancellation rates, with airport bosses accusing the national carrier of deliberately cancelling services to block competition from smaller carriers.
“The conscious, planned decision by Qantas to cancel Canberra flights to Sydney, over other routes into Sydney, is simply unfair to Canberra travellers,” Canberra Airport CEO Stephen Byron said last month.
“Canberrans are paying a premium price to access air travel, which is about travelling fast and getting to a destination on time on the flight they have booked. People are travelling for family functions, weddings, funerals, business meetings. They should not have to deal with the inconvenience of having their flight cancelled.”
Mr Byron said Qantas cancelling Canberra to Sydney flights has been an issue for a number of years.
“This is not the first time we have seen this behaviour from Qantas. The same issues of cancellations on the Canberra to Sydney service occurred in 2017 and again in 2018. More than five years later, we continue to see anti-competitive behaviour from Qantas, who book take-off and landing slots into Sydney Airport with no intention of using them. We are yet again calling on the Federal Government to step in and hold airlines to account for poor performance,” he said.
“In my view, where cancellations by an airline for a month exceed 5 per cent, the Australian Government needs to consider a proper and formal ‘show cause’ process which involves a truthful explanation, accompanied with an actual rectification plan by the airline. Where cancellation rates exceed 10 per cent, the Government should consider implementing fines, as well as the removal of slots.”
In its 2023 Annual Report Qantas chairman Richard Goyder apologised for a number of operational challenges and acknowledged the damage to its reputation.
“We had significant issues as Qantas and Jetstar’s flying ramped up post-COVID, with supply chain and resourcing challenges resulting in too many cancellations and delays. It was deeply disappointing and we sincerely apologise,” he said.
“As we move through our recovery, management and the board are acutely aware of the need to rebuild your confidence in Qantas. We’re also conscious of the loss of trust that has occurred because our service has often fallen short of expectations, compounded by a number of other issues relating to the pandemic period.”