Air Canada and WestJet saw travel demand surge this summer from pandemic lows, but just half of the more than 153,000 flights flown during this period landed on time or within 15 minutes of their scheduled arrival time.
Between June 1 and Sept. 5 this year, Air Canada had scheduled 109,097 flights while WestJet had 52,646 scheduled flights, according to data from Cirium, an aviation analytics company. While both airlines reduced capacity and flew fewer flights in the summer of 2022 than during the same period in 2019 – Air Canada flew 159,367 flights and WestJet 68,965 – both also saw delays surge. Cirium says that 43 per cent of Air Canada's flights landed on time this summer, while 61 per cent of WestJet's flights were on time.
Prior to the pandemic, Cirium says the on-time rate was 70 per cent for Air Canada and 84 per cent for WestJet. (While Cirium tracks data for other Canadian carriers – including Porter, Air Transat, Flair Airlines, Lynx Air and Sunwing – it was unable to confidently report on arrival times for those airlines due to unreliability of some airport data.)
This summer saw chaos at some of the country's biggest airports, as the surge in pent-up travel demand combined with labour shortages and processing issues led to a wave of cancellations and delays.
Air Canada cut thousands of flights from its schedule between July and August – an average of 154 flights per day – in the wake of airline disruptions that the company's chief executive Michael Rousseau called "complex and unavoidable" at the time. WestJet chief executive Alexis von Honesbroech also said the company made a series of proactive cuts – the bulk of which were at Toronto's Pearson airport – ahead of the summer in anticipation of airport delays.
Canadian airlines flew nearly 60,000 fewer flights this summer compared to before the pandemic struck, but cancellations doubled as the industry grappled with surging demand and labour shortages.
According to Cirium, airlines including Air Canada, WestJet, Porter Airlines, Flair Airlines and Air Transat had nearly 200,000 flights scheduled this summer but cancelled more than 9,000 of them. Before the pandemic, Canadian airlines flew more flights and cancelled fewer ones. There were nearly 260,000 flights scheduled by Canadian airlines in the summer of 2019, and just 4,800 cancellations.
Air Canada flew the most flights and had the worst cancellation rate among Canadian airlines, with 6.7 per cent of scheduled flights (7,353 flights) being cancelled over the summer. Flair Airlines had a cancellation rate of 4.5 per cent (324 flights), followed by Swoop with a cancellation rate of 3.4 per cent (158 flights) and WestJet with 2.4 per cent of scheduled flights cancelled this summer (1,254 flights).
Recovery is underway
The Canadian airline industry says the situation has improved in recent weeks.
Transport Canada says that in the fourth week of August, 2.5 per cent of scheduled flights were cancelled, an improvement from 5 per cent during the first week of July. The government says 86 per cent of flights at the country's four busiest airports – Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Calgary – left on time or within an hour of their scheduled departure, an improvement from 75 per cent in the first week of July.
Air Canada said in August that it had improved service levels through the summer, reducing wait times and cancellations and bringing its baggage mishandling rate back to 2019 levels.
"While I am very satisfied with the progress to date, and I thank our employees for their unrelenting efforts, we all continue to work hard on behalf of our customers to complete our recovery," Rousseau said in an August statement.
"The recovery emerging at the end of the last quarter has been confirmed in recent months," Transat chief executive Annick Guérard said in a statement.
"The pace of sales is currently very comparable to 2019."
Alicja Siekierska is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow her on Twitter @alicjawithaj.