Qantas promises to slash Sydney-Canberra flight cancellations

By David Flynn, November 23 2017
Qantas promises to slash Sydney-Canberra flight cancellations

Almost one in ten Qantas flights on the Sydney-Canberra route are being cancelled, according to data published this week – prompting Canberra Airport to call for an industry taskforce to get schedules back on track.

"Canberra is getting slugged with perpetually poor results on the Canberra-Sydney route in terms of cancellations," said airport CEO Stephen Byron, who has called out both Qantas and Virgin Australia for consistently axing flights on the route.

"This issue has been around for a long time... it's not like these are low cost airfares like on Ryanair or Easyjet, that one might expect a level of unreliability about them," Byron told The Canberra Times.

Statistics issued by the Federal Government's Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development showed that Qantas cancelled 8.8% of Canberra-Sydney flights in October and 7.7% of flights on the Sydney-Canberra leg.

Virgin Australia's track record for the same month stood at a more modest 2% in both directions – slightly under October's average national flight cancellation rate of 2.3%, but still above the historical national 'long-term' cancellation rate of 1.4%.

"The long-term (national) average is 1.4 per cent, the industry standard of what is acceptable is below 2 per cent and the reality is on the Canberra to Sydney route, it hasn't been below two per cent for more than five years," Byron told The Canberra Times.

Byron is calling for a taskforce made up of executives from both Sydney and Canberra airports as well as representatives from Qantas, Virgin Australia and Airservices Australia.

QantasLink Chief Operating Officer Jenny Chamberlain said that the airline was revising its Sydney-Canberra schedule "to improve overall reliability."

"A combination of factors has recently led to issues with availability of both aircraft and crew, and this has resulted in cancellations and delays in parts of our regional network. Because our network is interconnected, this has had a knock on effect to several ports, particularly Canberra and regional Queensland."

"The issues include aircraft maintenance taking longer than expected and many of our reserve flight crew pilots being tied up with training one of the largest intakes of new pilots in our history. With fewer reserve pilots, it means we’re seeing an increased level of cancellations if several call in sick on any given day."

QantasLink will reduce the number of daily flights on the Sydney-Canberra route through to late March 2018, but fly more Boeing 737 jets in place of the smaller Boeing 717 aircraft.

For its part, Virgin Australia considers its September and October cancellations as a blip caused by crewing and engineering issues and adverse weather.

"Cancelling flights is never our preference but unfortunately we do occasionally need to change services due to adverse weather, operational requirements or other factors outside our control," a Virgin Australia spokesperson told Australian Business Traveller.


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

12 Feb 2014

Total posts 230

Australia's best airport let down by the airlines that serve it. Can understand delays and cancellations in winter when fog is a reliable nuisance, but no excuse in October. Amazing that the pollies and bureaucrats don't get into the right ears on the issue.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jan 2017

Total posts 51

The pillies all fear the loss of their free upgrades and lounge access

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jan 2014

Total posts 319

They can add Townsville and Hobart to the list as well, it’s all good to blame staffing and crew issues and Cobham for maintenance issues with the 717 but it’s just not good enough, at the end if the day it’s up to QF to maintain a standard and not to go blaming third parties for the failings.

15 Sep 2012

Total posts 93

Amazing how quickly Qantas has responded to this! Maybe the fact that a very large percentage of their passengers btween canberra and Sydney are either politicians or public servants who have a lot of influence! Can't upset them! Nothing changes on other routes like hobart where it is just the ordinary citizen travelling!

23 Oct 2014

Total posts 233

This has got to be a record for cancelations. 1/10 just woeful. Extremely poor service for passengers who prob pay the highest for their tickets on this airline. Just not good enough.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Feb 2016

Total posts 9

You would be surprised what the public service pays for fares. I am a public servant and I have often seen full flex QF fares on our corporate booking site available for less than a red e-deal for the public.

29 May 2017

Total posts 3

If we had an equivalent to the European 261/2004 legislation perhaps airlines would be forced to consider passengers before making these (increasingly frequent) cancellations. Additional costs of €200 x 150 passengers adds up.

It is really about altering airline attitude rather than actual 'punishment' as it only applies to reasonably foreseeable cancellations and schedule changes (i.e. not weather, etc.)

The reference to expecting cancellations with Ryanair/EasyJet is particularly insightful (and completely wrong) as you rarely get a short notice schedule changes because each passenger would be entitled to €200-€600 compensation (depending on flight distance and delay duration), food allowance, accommodation overnight and still get flown to your destination.

Hopefully this will prompt similar legislation here.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

19 Mar 2014

Total posts 569

it's not like these are low cost airfares like on Ryanair or Easyjet”

Clearly hasn’t flown VA recently 😂


Singapore Airlines - The PPS Club

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 50

I have been on a Qantas flight from Sydney to Canberra circling over the airport and could see a Virgin flight landing (there were patches of fog). Our Qantas flight turned back to Sydney with the captain stating that it was due to a lack of visibility! All the passengers could see the runway but teh Captain couldnt

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 May 2013

Total posts 136

Every commercial airlines has a set of rules the captain has to follow regarding visibility. Visibility also changes quite quickly. As a pilot myself, i can assure you, safety of passengers and crew are far more important than anything else. Qantas is one of the safest airline in the world, they did’nt get there by luck.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 Aug 2014

Total posts 73

Totally agree with you in that point, but when the sky is clear and no wether risk? Or is it not enough bums on seats?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 May 2014

Total posts 35

How about those risks that you can't see with your eyes, like micro-bursts or windshears? No captains would want to be caught with this a few feet from the ground. Or even wind's just getting too strong cannot be too helpful (especially for DH84 flights).

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 May 2013

Total posts 136

They would'nt have gone all the way there (if there were not enough bums on seats!) and come back

07 Oct 2012

Total posts 1250

I have zero problems with this.


21 May 2014

Total posts 24

Easy to comment from the armchair. There are so many variables to consider (it can even come down to the aircraft itself, and what the airline has installed).

I'd much rather have the Captain be cautious and divert rather than not and end up with burning mess being over optimistic.

Delta Air Lines - SkyMiles

16 Oct 2017

Total posts 156

Qantas is indeed one of the safest airlines in the world. Just not sufficiently customer focused - that's where they show feet of clay.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 Aug 2014

Total posts 73

That is why I choose to drive down now to Canberra from Sydney, after Qantas pull the pin last min a few times on me & all you get is sorry for the inconvenience apologies from Qantas.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

14 Mar 2017

Total posts 152

Every Qantas flight I've been on from CBR in recent memory has been cancelled or changed. I've been downgraded from business to economy and given nothing. It's clear they over schedule then remove underperforming routes or move to smaller aircraft a few days out. It's consistent. VA, fwiw, much more reliable.


10 Jul 2016

Total posts 3

It's not just Canberra. The problem is affecting other cities across the network.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 May 2013

Total posts 136

I hope you guys have read the Virgin Australia flight significant damage story today (tried to land and due to microshear at canberra aircraft, the aircraft had a significant hard landing and the incident has been severe enough. Apparently, canberra has more these dramas than any other airport.

20 Sep 2017

Total posts 26

I'm totally with _anonymous_ on this. This happens because (unlike the EU) Australia does not have any mandatory compensation for cancelled flights. Ryanair & Easyjet never cancel flights unless they absolutely have to. The EU regulation was introduced because EU government officials were sick of cancellations happening to them. It is no surprise that Qantas will focus on stopping Canberra flight cancellations.

26 Feb 2014

Total posts 14

Give it to Rex!....they are more Proffesional on Regional Routes!

24 Nov 2017

Total posts 1

All valid comments however there is so much more at play. One delay resulting from an engineering issue, a passenger issue, medical, refuelling, weather, security, catering, IT, Crew (yes they have lives too) archaic airport facilities read ILS etc etc etc impacts multiple flights for the remainder of the day... often several days. Cancel a couple of flight and inconvenience 150 passengers or run late and inconvenient 1500?

Me thinks Mr Byron may be concerned about lost revenue from the countries most expensive airport charges???

05 Jun 2017

Total posts 1

For a ridiculously overpriced flight, the high number of cancellations is unacceptable. Even Red-E Economy flights can cost around $400 return for a 30 minute flight. The problem is, there are no low cost airlines between Sydney & Canberra like Tigerair, who now fly from Canberra to Brisbane & Canberra to Melbourne.

26 Feb 2014

Total posts 14

Which is why rex airlines should be more involved and not allow the monopoly of qantas and virgin s control the route.

03 Nov 2013

Total posts 6

I think the safety argument is irrelevant. No airline would knowingly fly an unsafe plane or fly outside their weather (crosswinds/microburst/vis etc etc) limits. If these were the only issues then there would be very few complaints. Most intelligent travellers accept delays for these reasons. In fact when I get an email from QANTAS telling me safety is their priority after my flight has been cancelled I find it insulting.

The reality is that too many planes are going unserviceable and there is a shortage of pilots and other issues that are within the airlines control. Furthermore, the airline is only now admitting it. I would rather see less scheduled flights and more reliability than the constant cancellations.

As a platinum frequent flyer I am very happy to forego my free champagne for a plane that gets me where i want to go when I want to go (weather etc permitting).

The comment above about compensation was also interesting. When QANTAS cancelled yet another one of my flights recently, they certainly gave me my $250.00 money back. BUT I still had to pay $500.00 to get the last seat on another airline so I could make my critical appointments.

These delays/cancellations cost in either more expensive travel or lost productivity and extra accommodation by travelling earlier than needed just to be safe.

20 Sep 2017

Total posts 26

It seems to me that Australia is long overdue for their own version of EU261. Of course it will hurt the airline industry a bit and they will complain like hell (as they did in Europe) but ultimately it helps the economy by reducing waste. It is highly unlikely to have any impact on Qantas' excellent safety record. That sort of fatuous argument was used in Europe as well but is now accepted as being baseless.

17 Sep 2015

Total posts 387

Yes, we need an EU261 clone.

The airlines get away with 'murder.' Not just on the CBR routes!


21 Aug 2012

Total posts 14

Is there not an EBA with the 717 pilots that is not helping the issue? Reliability is so poor it's quicker to get a bus.

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