Cirium shows December busiest month for global air travel in 2021

Posted on 10 January, 2022 by Advance 

Aviation analytics firm Cirium has revealed December was the busiest month in 2021 for flight cancellations globally, totalling 2.43 million.

Image courtesy Cirium

Between 24th December 2021 and 3rd January 2022, 59,240 alone were cancelled as airlines struggled with operational challenges around the Omicron surge and winter weather.

This resulted in the most December cancellations for the past decade – six times higher than in 2019 and two and half times more than 2020. In total, 20,500 flights were cancelled in the first three days of the new year alone.

Flight cancellations by the big four US airlines – American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines – soared to 7,040 over this period.

Jeremy Bowen, Cirium CEO, said: “Flight disruptions affect airlines and airports differently – it depends on the stand-by flexibility of equipment and resources in place to react quickly.

“Those that plan more conservatively will minimise their operational disruptions. Cirium monitors the level of disruption by measuring completion factor of flights and their on-time performance.

“Cirium’s recent On-Time Performance Review shows how some airlines have focused on their operations to reduce the impact on passengers.

“For example, Delta Air Lines completed 99.8% of flights June to December 2021 and All Nippon Airways, the winner of the Global airline category winner in Cirium’s Review had a completion factor of 99.2%.”

Cirium analysis shows pre-Omicron, global flights flown increased 1.5% week-over-week (December 11-17, 2021).

But the combination of Omicron and winter weather resulted in airlines rapidly cancelling flights due to crew and ground staff shortages, so that global flights are now down 5% compared to the week prior.

There are large variances between the regions, with the US, Europe and North Atlantic down 9-10%, while China is up 6%, and the Asia Pacific and Middle East are flat.  

Consideration is given to the carriers with high volumes of flights. For example, American Airlines flew the most flights in 2021 – around 1,850,050 – and still, its flights arrived 80.47% on time. The carrier had trouble reinstating flight volumes after more than a year of deeply depressed demand yet completed 97.5% of its flights.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the major hub for Delta Air Lines, was the busiest airport based on departing flights, with 336,890 this year. Despite handling the most flights, it ranked 15th in terms of on-time performance in the ranking of the world’s Top 20 Global Airports.

Amsterdam Airport was the busiest airport for international flights in 2021, with a total of 123,070 departing flights, however, it didn’t make the Top 20 airport rankings for on-time performance.

Airports have experienced many variables this year in deploying comprehensive pandemic protocols, optimising the reconciliation and collection of fees and services and optimising staffing.

Cirium resumed reporting in June 2021, as flight volumes returned, with regular monthly updates that help gauge the industry’s performance in getting passengers from point A to point B, on time. Cirium’s On-Time Performance Review is the industry standard for airline and airports operational performance and its on-time performance analysis is based on flight data from over 600 sources of real-time flight information.