Australia is preparing for its busiest day of domestic air travel in three years as the great Christmas getaway begins on Friday.
However, the industry appears to have coped remarkably well so far this week. As of Thursday at 5pm, there had been just nine cancellations in the last 24 hours at Sydney Airport, five at Melbourne and six at Brisbane.
Melbourne on Thursday afternoon was though forced to delay a number of flights after heavy rain partially flooded the roof of Terminal 1.
The good early results come despite the industry suffering its worst-ever year for performance, with the all-time record for delays being broken in April, June and July as airlines bounced back to pre-pandemic passenger traffic.
Since then, businesses have recruited thousands of extra staff and cut flights to improve the passenger experience.
Nonetheless, the Christmas period, and particularly Friday, will pose the biggest test yet for Qantas, Virgin and Rex.
Melbourne is expecting almost six million people to pass through its terminals across December and January, representing a 150 per cent increase on the previous summer holiday period.
Brisbane will similarly see 3 million people travel this holiday period, and Sydney will register 2.2 million passengers between 12 December and 1 January alone – an 82 per cent recovery compared to the same period in 2019.
Melbourne Airport chief executive Lorie Argus said, “We encourage people travelling over the summer holidays to plan to arrive 1-2 hours before a domestic flight and 2-3 hours before an international flight — but not earlier than that, as some airlines don’t open check-in and will be managing large passenger volumes.
“Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays are shaping up to be the busiest travel days, with passenger numbers on some days expected to surpass 100,000 passengers.
“We will have measures in place to facilitate smooth holiday travel, such as increased security staff, strategic aircraft bay allocation to spread passenger loads, additional customer service teams across our car parks, corporate staff assisting in terminals and technicians on hand to quickly respond to any infrastructure issues.
“We already have early indications that our car parks will be busy, particularly over weekends, so we encourage people to book a car space online as far in advance as possible.
“Airlines and airport businesses have been busy recruiting new staff to rebuild their workforce, and for many of them this will be their first Christmas working at the airport, so we ask people to be patient and respectful as the team works to get you where you need to be as quickly and safely as possible.”
This month, Australian Aviation reported how Qantas would both increase the number of flights on key routes and swap in larger aircraft in order to boost capacity over Christmas.
It’s now expecting to carry 8 million passengers over Christmas but will still maintain an “operational buffer”, including standby resources, to manage the surge in customers.
Earlier this year, Qantas ranked as the worst airline for cancellations as it battled staff shortages and sickness absences, but last month bounced back to be the top-performing carrier.
Qantas now said it’s operating at 95 per cent of pre-pandemic levels for the second quarter of the financial year. That number is likely to be far higher over the Christmas period itself.
The Flying Kangaroo said previously that it turned around its poor performance by investing $200 million for the remainder of the financial year to roster additional crew, train new recruits and pay for overtime in contact centres.