/ Travel & Leisure

Would you pay more for a flight with a punctual airline?

Would you pay more to fly with an airline with an excellent punctuality record? For a short-haul flight I think I probably would and a number of members said they would too…

On a weekend city-break to Europe, nobody schedules time to twiddle their thumbs at the airport, so flying with a punctual airline could make a big difference to your trip.

We asked Which? members whether they would pay more to fly with an airline with an excellent punctuality record. When buying a £250 ticket, 44% of you said you’d be happy to pay £25 to £50 more if the airline had an excellent, rather than average, punctuality record.

There are differences between airlines when it comes to punctuality – we looked at the eight largest UK based airlines and Ryanair, flying to 10 UK airports from the top 10 destinations with Which? Travel members.

Ryanair are usually towards the bottom of the table when it comes to overall satisfaction but our research – based on Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) punctuality stats – shows that it flies seven of the most punctual routes to the UK.

Punctual take offs

Overall, Flybe were the most punctual airline flying to 10 UK airports from Australia, Canary Islands, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Turkey and the United States – the destinations most popular with Which? Travel members.

At the other end of the scale, Thomas Cook was the most delayed overall, including flights for Spain, Turkey and Portugal. Thomson also had lengthy delays, with flights to the United states being delayed by 51 mins.

If your flight is delayed, you could be in line for compensation – up to €600 per person for the longest delays on long-haul flights. But our research shows that not nearly enough people are claiming what they’re owed. You could try using our template letters

Only four in 10 people who were delayed by more than three hours went on to claim money back from the airline. But with our delay rights recently being confirmed by the Supreme Court, airlines have less wriggle room when it comes to turning down delay claims. You could try using our template letter to make a start.

Have you been delayed by more than three hours? Did you claim any money back?


Don’t think so, rather you should be awarded compensation if an airline has a poor record. The normal price you pay is for an on time flight. It follows you should pay less if you’re getting less in the form of a late flight.

All other things being equal, then I would rather avoid an airline with poor punctuality ratings even if cheaper.
However I cant remember when I actually had the luxury of a choice of airlines . For me its usually a matter of choosing the best combination of time and departure airport.

We have not had any significant problems with delayed departures or arrivals [unless weather was a factor] and, like Rarrar, there isn’t usually much choice without considerable inconvenience. We don’t like flying with certain airlines but it’s not on account of poor flight punctuality because to avoid them we actually spend more time going to a different airport. I get more frustrated with the time it takes at the airport to check-in, go through security (not the airlines’ responsibility), and hang about at the boarding gate. Of course, if the airline doesn’t handle its own boarding procedures efficiently then the aeroplane will miss its take-off slot which will muck everything up from then on. From casual observation of other queues at various airports I would say that sloppy performance by ground staff at the boarding gate seems to be the major problem with staff turning up late, insufficient staff for the numbers involved, incorrect or incomprehensible announcements, and general disorganisation. Unseen delays with baggage and cargo loading can also affect flights; this is usually a contracted monopoly operation and I bet there are no statistics publicly available on any impacts on punctuality. We have never had these problems with British Airways so we tend to have holidays near destinations they serve from Heathrow T5 which we think is probably one of the best in the UK [except on return when there never seem to be enough border control staff to clear the queues].

Agree about time to check-in, especially when checkin desks dont open or will not allow you to check in more than 2 hours before flight time. Though this is usually an issue on return flights.

For me, the important factor is not how statistically likely the flight is to be on time, but whether the airline has the infrastructure to put things right in the event of a delay. A larger airline with more redundancy in its fleet will be able to cope better in the event of a problem.

For this reason, I always fly on British Airways if they fly the route I need. However, they once let me down when inferior airlines would not have done. One day when flying from Heathrow to Gibraltar, all flights were diverted to Malaga because of fog in Gibraltar. While Monarch and Easyjet managed to take off again from Malaga and get their passengers to Gibraltar with only a small delay, British Airways sought fit to transport all their passengers by coach to Gibraltar which took several hours in total. I was not impressed. I never found out the cause of this bad treatment, although they did compensate me for out-of-pocket expenses.

Helen Dewdney (@ComplainingCow) says:
9 January 2015

Absolutely agree with Chris. When more people become aware of their rights and start to complain effectively and airlines are losing money paying out compensation perhaps they will get their act together and use the money for infrastructure and service and not have to use it on pay outs.

I have not had to claim but I claimed for friends a while back and Thomas Cook rejected the claim stating technical fault. I wrote again informing them that the Jet2 vs Huzar 2014 and the Wallentin_ Hemann vs Alitalia 2009 cases confirmed that technical difficulties are not extraordinary circumstances. My friends got their money! Just shows that even when you are right that companies will still try and fob you off.

I choose to fly Ryanair – I use them for at least 4 return trips a year and in almost all cases they have been on time or ahead of schedule. It seems to be a hobby for some people to moan about Ryanair, but the likes of Ryanair and easyJet have done a huge service to both price and punctuality of short haul flights. In answer to your question, I wouldn’t pay more to go with an airline with a better punctuality record for short haul flights; but like some other correspondents, I choose British Airways for long haul flights, even though others may be cheaper.

Far better than choosing a punctual airline is to choose a punctual airport.

According to a recent article in the Telegraph, Gatwick, Stanstead and Heathrow airports were amongst the worst, and to be avoided, while Bristol came out top for punctuality, followed by Luton and Birmingham.

And if BA are wedded to Heathrow – tough!

Since BA gained its own terminal [T5] at Heathrow departure punctuality has improved and arrivals are more efficient. T5 is virtually a separate airport but flights still have to share runways with other airlines and join the queue for take-off. In our experience the pilots have always been able to make up for lost time by adjusting the flying schedule [obviously, the longer the flight the easier that is]. On our latest return to T5 the allocated disembarkation pier was still occupied but it was a matter of a few minutes for BA to redispose the arrival to a vacant pier and, since we had touched down early, docking was bang on time.

We haven’t yet flown from Luton but from what others have said it seems to run as a very well-oiled machine to a regular timetable. Most of its passengers are UK residents travelling light which might have something to do with it. It’s longest flight time is 5h15m to Sharm El Sheikh and most flights are within Europe running like shuttles so reliable out-&-back performance is vital.

Colin says:
10 January 2015

What is not mentioned anywhere is that lack of punctuality may be a reflection of poor maintenance planning and cost cutting. The flight is delayed for reason, a frequent excuse is that it was due to the late arrival of the incoming flight – fair enough, but why was that flight delayed? Was there a technical issue that had to be resolved? Was that technical issue due to delaying the rectification of a long standing defect with the aircraft, however small? If that is the case it is quite likely it was due to cost cutting (not unsafely, but stretching the legally required limits on defect rectification). I would rather pay for a punctual airline, because punctuality is a reflection of good maintenance planning and availability of spare parts. Spare parts on the shelf cost money, and some aircraft operators keep their stocks low to help with the cash flow. Aviation is an incredibly expensive business and profit margins are low exacerbating the problem. Fly with a well funded airline.

You might be right Colin – and, in your scenario, thankfully the airline took the opportunity to fix the plane rather than rush it into the clouds with a problem. Cutting back-up capacity to the minimum is an unfortunate consequence of any recession and the kind of cut-throat competition it has fostered. But in so many instances of bad timekeeping I think it is the ground operations that let the service down with mess-ups in the baggage transfers, absent check-in/boarding staff, delayed cargo loading, and waiting while the food containers are put on board. Some airlines will wait for ever for late-presenting passengers – you can hear the urgent calls on the PA right up to the stated boarding time [and, strangely, they get a round of applause when they enter the plane!].

Chris Fayle says:
11 January 2015

Do not forget that airlines hold their spares at their home airports, not everywhere that they visit. Whilst other airlines might have a spare, why should they support their competition by lending them their expensive spares?
I once flew KLM from Amsterdam to Hannover. On the approach the Hannover, the pilot announced that his radio had failed. He had spoken to Amsterdam on his mobile phone and we would be returning to Amsterdam. Whilst it is obviously OK to land a plane without a radio, taking off was not allowed.
This highlighted the fact that, whilst KLM had plenty of spare radios and technicians, they would have had to fly them to Hannover to repair the grounded plane. So we flew 40 minutes back to Amsterdam, changed planes and returned to Hannover.

The interesting thing about transport punctuality is that you can’t ‘average’ the figures by departing early. You have to have a very high ratio of on-time departures to offset any serious delays and that’s when the ‘not our fault’ excuses start to flow.

Ed has suggested that choosing a punctual airport is the best way to avoid delays. Most people are not prepared to travel for an extra hour to avoid the risk of a fifteen minute delay. In any case, with packaged holidays there is rarely much choice – and some of the second division airports only have one or two flights a week to popular destinations and none at all to others. For optimum flexibility of date, departure time, destination and duration you are usually better off using one of the major airports.

We also need statutory compensation for delayed baggage so that airlines do everything possible to prevent a delay. If airlines had to fork out €100 for every delayed bag (plus consequential emergency purchases), then they would put more resources into getting passengers’ baggage on to the correct flights.