Airline punctuality at Britain’s airports has plummeted, with the number of hour-long delays on Ryanair and Easyjet flights doubling in the last five years, according to research by Which?.
It named Stansted as the UK’s worst airport for delays, with 10% of all flights taking off an hour or more late, while Heathrow was best, at 4%. Ryanair saw the worst deterioration in punctuality of any major airline in the Which? survey, with 7.8% of its flights suffering a delay of one hour or more in 2018, compared with 3% in 2014.
Thomas Cook Airlines was worst overall, with 11.5% of its flights delayed, while Dutch carrier KLM was the best.
The budget airlines rejected the findings, saying they were the victims of air traffic control delays, extreme weather conditions and strikes.
But Which? said both airports and airlines had failed to match the rapid growth in the number of flights with the resources needed to handle an increase in traffic.
It analysed 10m flights, and estimated that last year alone 17 million passengers were affected by delays, but most passengers were not entitled to compensation because this is only payable after a three-hour delay.
Naomi Leach from Which? Travel said: “It is unacceptable for passengers to be regularly inconvenienced with delays that can leave them hundreds of pounds out of pocket when they miss connections or transfers, are fined for picking up their hire car late or miss their train or cab home.”
In a robust response, Ryanair rejected the findings. In a statement, it said: “These Which? figures are inflated and inaccurate. They refer to 2018, which was the worst year on record for ATC delays in Europe.”
EasyJet and Thomas Cook both claimed factors beyond their control were to blame for the delays, such as airspace, weather and strikes.
Stansted said it had posted significantly improved results in the first quarter of 2019, in part because Ryanair had invested in additional resourcing and equipment to support ground operation.
While delays at British Airways improved over the five-year period, over the weekend furious customers attacked the airline for its handling of the pilots’ strike planned for September.
Customers swamped BA helplines, and many passengers reported calling every hour but never getting through. Others messaged the company on Twitter with their frustrations, some complaining they would miss weddings and honeymoons.
Scott Kishere, a filmmaker and police community officer, said: “My wife and I have been told that our flight to Toronto has been cancelled. This was a full package we booked through BA for our 10-year wedding anniversary. I have made over 100 attempts to contact them for a refund and they’re not answering.”
BA said it was receiving nine times its normal call volumes and that 500 staff worked over the weekend to help sort out customer issues. But the airline admitted to adding to the chaos, after it sent some customers an email to say their flight had been cancelled, even though the flight was on a non-strike day and was scheduled to go ahead.
After it realised the error, BA emailed customers again but by that time many had rebooked with other airlines.
In a statement, it said: “We are sorry for any confusion and inconvenience this has caused. We would encourage anyone who has incurred any expenses as a direct result to get in touch, and we will deal with each case on an individual basis.”