Aviation analytics firm Cirium has revealed December was the busiest month in 2021 for flight cancellations globally, totalling 2.43 million.
Between December 24th and January 3rd alone 59,240 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 chief executive, 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 analysis shows pre-Omicron, global flights flown increased 1.5 per cent week-over-week between December 11-17.
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 five per cent compared to the week prior.
There are large variances between the regions, with the US, Europe and North Atlantic down nine-to-ten per cent, while China is up six per cent, 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 per cent on time.