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Flight cancellations and delays: UK’s worst airports for disruption revealed, from Manchester to Southampton

Analysis of official aviation figures reveals the airports worst-hit by cancelled and delayed flights in the first three months of this year.

Many holidaymakers have faced queues and disruption this year when jetting off from UK airports, as the industry struggles to get back on its feet after the pandemic. But some airports have had more than their share of problems.

Here, we analyse official aviation figures to see which airports have fared worst for delays and cancellations.

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Are more flights being cancelled?

Official figures haven’t yet been released for the Easter and spring half-term holidays, when travellers faced major disruption at many airports.

But figures have been released for the first three months of this year. These show a total of 3,363 flights were cancelled across 26 major UK airports in the three months to the end of March.

This represents 1.5% of flights to or from these major UK airports, up from 0.9% of flights cancelled in the same period in 2019, figures from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) show.

A spokesperson for the CAA said the emergence of the Omicron Covid variant before Christmas “led to many flight cancellations and some key European markets imposing bans on UK travellers”.

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Only flights cancelled at short notice are counted in the statistics. Cancelled flights are defined as those which are called off within 24 hours of the scheduled departure time.

Are more flights being delayed?

Officials count a flight as delayed if it is more than 15 minutes late. Analysis of these figures shows 20% of flights were delayed in the first three months of this year in and out of the 26 major airports, counting domestic flights once.

Figures on flight delays going back to 2019 are only available for 24 airports - and for the first three months of that year, the proportion of flights delayed was also 20%. So whether it was before or after the pandemic, around one in five flights was running behind schedule.

But some airports have more delayed flights than others.

Which are the worst airports for delays and cancellations?

In the first three months of this year, Doncaster Sheffield airport had the highest rate of delays, with 27% of flights running at least 15 minutes late. This was followed by Manchester, with 26% of flights delayed, and Heathrow, where 24% of flights ran behind schedule.

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A spokesperson for Doncaster Sheffield Airport said:  “We are always mindful that we provide an easy, friendly and relaxed service for our passengers and whilst it is unusual to experience long delays over 15 to 20 minutes for outbound travel from DSA, we are doing all that we can to alleviate delays for our customers. We advise passengers to check the most recent announcements from their airline and the airport before setting off on their journey.”

Belfast City had the best performance, with only 8% of flights running behind schedule.

The figures show that Southampton Airport had the highest cancellation rate for the first three months of this year, at 6.2%. Nearly half of the 192 cancelled flights at Southampton were those run by Guernsey state-run carrier Aurigny Air Services to and from airports in the Channel Islands.

Both Southampton Airport and Aurigny Air Services were approached for comment.

This was followed by Aberdeen and London City airports, both with cancellation rates of 3.9%. Six airports reported no cancelled flights in the first three months of 2022. These were Belfast, Bournemouth, Cardiff, Doncaster Sheffield, Exeter and Teesside.

When delays and cancellations are combined, Manchester Airport had the worst overall performance. Less than three-quarters (72%) of flights left on time in the first three months of this year.

A Manchester Airport spokesman said: "On-time performance can be affected by a range of factors such as weather, technical issues, staff sickness and global air traffic control delays. We work closely with our third parties on site - airlines, handling agents and air traffic control to minimise delays as far as reasonably possible.”

Are airports busier than usual?

Many people have been keen to return to taking trips abroad after years of lockdowns and restrictions. But the figures for the first quarter of 2022 show passenger numbers were still far below pre-pandemic levels - suggesting it wasn’t an overwhelming number of passengers that lay behind the problems at airports.

Overall, 31.4 million passengers flew in and out of the UK between January and March this year. This represents a 42% fall in passengers compared to the same period in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic.

Aviation experts say it is a lack of trained and vetted staff, both within airports and on airlines, that is at the root of the problems. Before Covid, airports and airlines across Britain employed around 140,000 people, but since then thousands of jobs have been cut. Around 30,000 jobs were cut for UK airlines alone.

The Airport Operators Association (AOA), the trade association representing the interests of airports across the UK said: “Airports anticipated it would be challenging at peak times as the industry seeks to re-start and have had big recruitment campaigns underway since before the start of this year. But until the restrictions were lifted, uncertainty about the future of travel made this difficult. Since then, there has been a very positive response and airports are now seeing additional staff completing the required vetting and training, and being deployed. As a result, while queues may be longer at certain times at some airports, most passengers are getting through airport security – and away on their holidays – smoothly.

“The focus now must be on continuing to improve the service to customers. Airports are working closely with airlines and ground handling companies to facilitate check in, baggage handling and on-time departures. We will work closely with them and with government to ensure we are ready for the summer getaway – the first proper summer holiday period since the start of the pandemic.”

Take a look at the situation in your local airport by searching for it in the box below. If it is not appearing, click here to open it in a new window.

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If you have had your flight cancelled or delayed, you can find out whether you are entitled to compensation.