People waiting in line at an airport

Flight cancellations, expected delays as demand for school holidays peaks

With all states having school holidays starting tomorrow, people traveling to see relatives or fleeing to warmer climes can expect delays at airports.

Today is expected to be the busiest day at some airports since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with school holidays starting in South Australia and Tasmania – and ending in Queensland and Victoria.

NSW is halfway through the school holidays.

At Adelaide Airport, 30,000 people are expected to pass through the terminal today, which is busier than before the pandemic and higher than the previous Easter peak.

The airport’s director, Brenton Cox, said Mondays and Thursdays are also expected to be busy, culminating on July 22 – the last Friday of the South Australian school holidays.

“There are seven days in the next three weeks where we will encounter nearly 30,000 people a day, which is busier than before the pandemic and busier than Easter, where our busiest day was 26,000,” said Mr Cox.

The airport advises travelers to arrive two hours for domestic flights and three hours for international flights.

Cancellations at Melbourne Airport yesterday.ABC news

Dozens of flights canceled this week

Thirteen flights to and from Adelaide Airport were canceled on Wednesday and nine yesterday.

More than a dozen flights were also canceled at Melbourne Airport on Thursday, partly due to weather disruptions for passengers bound for flood-stricken NSW.

Flight delays and cancellations were reported in Brisbane, Sydney and Perth.

Adelaide travel agent Phil Hoffmann said his company advised customers to “be patient” and expect changes in flight times.

He said today would be “the test”.

People wait for their luggage at the baggage claim at Brisbane Airport on Easter Monday.
People have reported having to wait more than an hour for luggage after their flight lands.ABC News: Sally Eeles

Most airlines would try to put passengers on the next available flight rather than offer refunds, he said.

“It happens — we don’t have much control over it,” Hoffmann said.

“We can only say to people, ‘Be patient.’ Hopefully they can go on to the next flight.”

However, he said some people were put on flights up to six hours later than their original ones, and some flights were announced as canceled only 10 minutes before their scheduled departure.

“Things can change, cancellations happen, which I often find annoying because they happen so close to departure,” he said.

“I’m sure they know in advance.”

Airlines say demand higher than ever

Virgin Australia said the number of travelers flying these school holidays was 15 percent higher than 2019 levels and “significantly higher” than during the Easter holidays.

“Airports and airlines worldwide are experiencing tremendous demand as travelers return to the air as pandemic restrictions ease,” a company spokeswoman said.

Virgin Australia customers can get a refund or travel credit if a suitable flight is not available to replace their booked flight.

Passengers whose flights are delayed overnight can receive $220 for hotel accommodation, $50 for meals, and be reimbursed for the cost of airport transfers and “reasonable personal items.”

A man and a woman in the shadows wait by a window and watch a Tiger plane
Flight delays affect all airlines, including those serving regional destinations.ABC news

Staff numbers also a problem

Transport Workers’ Union South SA/NT Secretary Ian Smith blamed flight cancellations on staff shortages stemming from airlines thousands of workers lay off at the start of the pandemic

He said the workforce was still well below early 2020 levels and many employees had become contractors not directly employed by airlines.

A man stands with his hands on his hips in front of a TWU banner.
Transport Workers’ Union SA/NT Secretary Ian Smith.ABC news

“It’s the security officers, the cleaners on the planes — all that sort of thing — and these people influence whether planes take off or not,” he said.

“Pilots themselves and cabin crew have time limits that they are allowed to work, and if a plane departs late [or] arrive late, it doesn’t get off the ground because the luggage is not arranged.

“And people don’t want to work for airlines — we even have pilots who we think have left the industry completely.”

He said it was “obvious” that the problem would occur once the travel returned to its previous level.

“Qantas could arrange baggage handling itself by” rehiring the 1,600 or 2,000 workers they illegally fired,” he said.

“There are many who would like to come back and work for Qantas.”

Mr Hoffmann said the travel industry in general is struggling to find workers due to job insecurity.

“We’ve also noticed in our industry that I can hire 15 to 20 new senior consultants tomorrow, but we can’t get them,” he said.

“They don’t want to return to an industry that has been shaken so badly by COVID.”

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