May 20, 2024

Counting the costs

Airline delays don't just affect passengers; they have a big impact on the environment. Tomasz Pawliszyn, CEO of AirHelp, explains how

A recent report conducted by AirHelp investigated the impact of flight disruptions on the economy and environment in Europe, the US and Australia last year. It uncovered that at least 330 million passengers were affected by delays or cancellations in Europe, with a further 200 million in the US and 12 million in Australia. This amounts to a total of 650 million hours of passenger time lost, requiring 30 million overnight hotel stays.

The report also calculated the economic impact across four metrics: operations time for airlines, value of passenger time lost, spillover effects, and additional costs of accommodating flight cancellations. Based on the hourly value of passenger time from aviation agency estimates, costs to passengers had the biggest economic impact, amounting to 37% of the total cost – more than $67 million across Europe, the US and Australia.

Environmental impact

Disruptions carry a significant burden on the environment due to the longer flying and taxiing time of delayed planes, as well as additional services used like taxis and hotels. In 2022, flight disruptions generated an additional nine million tons of CO2 emissions, equal to 1.3% of the industry total. The added carbon footprint equates to annual emissions of approximately two million passenger cars and would require around 3,000 wind turbines running for a year or 300-350 million trees to offset.

Where passengers require hotel nights, meals and transportation due to cancelled and delayed flights, additional and preventable waste is generated. Up to 90,000 tons of waste per year comes as a result of hotel stays and meals for passengers affected by cancellations.

Lack of resources

It is clear that the travel industry bounced back from Covid-19 far quicker than airports and airlines expected. Despite having an indication of the number of expected air passengers through ticket sales, many airlines sold too many tickets in advance last year without careful consideration of how this would affect resources. As both the airports and airlines did not manage to rehire and train enough staff laid off during the pandemic, they were not able to operate at full capacity.

UK airports were among the worst affected, mainly due to the number of redundancies made in response to the pandemic in comparison to airports in other European countries, which continued to employ a greater proportion of staff even when there was significant disruption caused by Covid-19. This meant that when the travel restrictions lifted post-pandemic, the UK was tasked with sustaining a pre-pandemic quality of service while being significantly short-staffed.

Coming together

Whilst flight disruptions are out of the airline and airport’s control, the impact financially and environmentally has become a leading issue for the industry since the pandemic.

It’s clear that the shortage of staff last year and outdated Air Traffic Control systems led to an unprecedented number of delays and cancellations and now is the time for airports and airlines to invest in hiring and training new staff to avoid these levels of disruption in the future.

In addition, everyone across the industry needs to come together, with every stakeholder across each airline and airport responsible for making sure that the whole process is as seamless as possible for passengers.