Why Low Cost Long Haul Flights Are Always Late

Low-cost airlines have a reputation for tardiness. Whilst flag carriers can seem to fly like clockwork, we don’t even bat an eye to the news of yet another low-cost flight arriving 4-5 hours behind schedule.

But why is there this divide? Why would the cost of a ticket determine the lateness of the flight?

Which airlines have the worst on-time performance?

According to a new report from light-scheduling specialist OAG, our favorite airline Norwegian and Air Asia X are both ranked in the list the most delayed airlines (or rather, the latest to arrive at their scheduled landing time). Late is defined as any arrival past 15 minutes from original landing time.

The worst offender was TAP Portugal, despite being the first airline to use the brand new Airbus A330neo.

Why Low Cost Long Haul Flights Are Always Late
Source: Bloomberg

Why would low-cost carriers have worst performance?

If we examine the two samples written above, Norwegian and Air Asia, we can understand why they have worse performance than full-service flag carrier airlines.

Two-thirds of all Norwegian aircraft were delayed in 2018. This is mostly thanks to the engine failure of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which caused most of their fleet to be grounded. As such, they had to perform extra steps such hiring the HiFly Airbus A380 to replace their aircraft (which was very expensive). Unfortunately, you can’t just slide a new A380 into a slot at a popular airport (such as JFK), as such the plane was even more delayed being pushed back 5-6 hours.

The HiFly A380

Of course, British Airways faced similar problems with their Dreamliner fleet. But as they had far more capital (and passengers had paid so much more for their tickets) they were able to quickly charter various aircraft (or swap in a new aircraft from their vast fleet, something that most low-cost carriers don’t have the option for) to replace the service.

“These are developing long-haul airlines and their fleet sizes are not as large as those of some of the legacy airlines. When they have a delay or an aircraft that goes technical, which could happen to anyone, the available resources to recover that are perhaps not as large.” – OAG director John Grant

What about Air Asia?

Air Asia faces several other challenges that are not applicable to Norwegian.

Why Low Cost Long Haul Flights Are Always Late
Air Asia route map

The first is that the tropical region that they operate in, South East Asia, is well known for storms and vicious weather. There is even a volcano that erupts at least once a year. Flights are constantly delayed due to these conditions resulting in plenty of unsatisfied customers. Conversely, full-service carriers who are delayed have the funds to put their customers up in hotels to lessen the impact.

Additionally, Air Asia also has to deal with a lack of infrastructure throughout the Asian region. Air travel is rapidly growing and many southeast Asian airports have not been build with the vast passenger numbers in mind. Remote island destinations that suddenly find themselves an Instagram hotspot for travelers simply don’t have the capital to upgrade their facilities for the vast amount of passenger aircraft that wish to land (For example, only having one runway for landing and departures). Full-service airlines are willing to pay a premium to be able to land at their preferred times, pushing their delays onto the low-cost carriers.

What about short-haul low-cost carriers?

Even short-haul low-cost carriers suffer from delays due to their ticket prices.

For example, Ryanair has a terrible rating and is notorious for being late. OAG does not have a lateness rating for the airline because they need at least 80% of their flights to fly when they mean to. Thanks to the pilot strikes that ooccurred late last year, many Ryanair flights were simply cancelled (Which in our opion is worse than just being delayed). Simply put, this is because they don’t pay their crew enough for the hours they fly, a problem that a full-service airline can easily solve.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.