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Data: Number of Passengers Affected by Flight Disruptions Up 36% in First Four Months of 2024

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In recent months, flight cancellations have caused significant disruptions for air travellers. Data from the DGCA indicates that the number of passengers affected by flight disruptions has increased by over 36% in first four months of 2024. Further, number of passengers affected by flight cancellations in the first 4 months of 2024 is nearly half of the figure for 2023.

In recent months, flight cancellations have caused significant disruptions for air travellers. In April 2024, over 100 Vistara flights were delayed/cancelled due to a shortage of crew members. Similarly, Air India Express faced numerous cancellations in May 2024 as hundreds of cabin crew members took mass sick leave, leaving many passengers stranded and frustrated. These cancellations led to considerable inconvenience, including travel delays, financial losses, and disrupted plans for passengers. 

In this story, we look at the extent of these disruptions and the compensation paid by scheduled domestic airlines in India. Data for this story has been sourced from Dataful’s collection of datasets on ‘Cancellation and Delay of Airlines due to various reasons’ based on data published by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation. Data is available until April 2024.

The three main passenger-related issues in flights are delayed flights, cancellations, and denied boarding. Delayed flights occur when a scheduled flight departs later than its planned time, causing inconvenience and potential missed connections for passengers. Data is available on the passengers affected due to flights being delayed beyond two hours. Cancellations happen when a flight is completely called off, often requiring passengers to rebook and adjust their travel plans. Denied boarding, commonly due to overbooking, occurs when passengers with valid tickets are not allowed to board the aircraft. Under these circumstances, airline companies are mandated to provide compensation and alternative travel arrangements, as per the rules.

The number of affected passengers by flight disruptions has increased by over 36% in first four months of 2024

Data on passengers affected by flight disruptions shows an increasing trend, from 4.2 lakh in 2014 to a record 33.2 lakh in 2019, with a significant reduction in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, the number has consistently increased, reaching 25.8 lakh in 2023, the second highest in the last decade.

The total number of passengers affected by the said reasons crossed 10.61 lakhs in the first four months of 2024 alone. In the first four months of 2023, this figure was less than 7.8 lakhs. In other words, compared to the first four months of 2023, the number of affected passengers has increased by over 36% in 2024 while the number of passengers carried increased by 3.88% during the same period.

Compensation paid to affected passengers highest in 2023

Like the trends in the number of passengers affected by the disruptions, the amount paid as compensation and facilitation also grew until 2019 and dropped due to the COVID-19 pandemic and has consistently risen since then. In 2023, a total of Rs. 46.5 crores were spent on compensation/ facilities, the highest in the last decade. In the first four months of 2024, Rs. 18.52 crores were spent while only Rs.11.94 crores were spent in the first four months of 2023. At this rate, it would not be surprising if 2024 sets new records both for the greatest number of passengers affected and the most amount spent on compensation.

Passengers affected by flight cancellations in the first 4 months of 2024 is nearly half of the figure for 2023

On average, flight delays accounted for 84% of the passengers affected by flight disruptions, each year. Cancellations affected around 15% and denial of boarding affected the remaining 1%. 

While the number of passengers affected by cancellations and delays in 2023 has touched or surpassed pre-COVID levels (except in 2019), the number of passengers affected by denied boarding remains low despite a gradual increase over the years.

If the number of passengers affected by cancellations in the first four months of 2024 alone is considered, the number has increased from 0.36 lakh in 2022 to 0.71 lakh in 2023 and 1.53 lakh in 2024. That is, it has more than doubled in 2024 compared to 2023. In the first four months of 2024 alone, the number of passengers affected by flight cancellations is nearly half the total number affected in the entire year of 2023.

Flight cancellation rate for April 2024 is the highest for that month since 2014

The average monthly cancellation rates of all airlines together increased from less than 1% till 2017 to nearly 3% in 2020. Before COVID-19, the cancellation rates were high in 2018 and 2019. This was around the time when the government’s regional connectivity scheme (UDAN) came into effect which was aimed at making air travel affordable and accessible. During this time, the low-cost carriers expanded. However, the industry also faced challenges such as rising fuel prices, intense price competition, and operational issues like pilot shortages and aircraft grounding due to regulatory compliance. These challenges, coupled with financial struggles for some airlines like Jet Airways, highlighted the need for sustainable business models and efficient operational strategies within the industry. 

Following the increase in cancellations during the COVID-19 pandemic, the rates dropped to less than 1% in 2022 and 2023. However, if the cancellations in April alone are considered, in 2024, the cancellation rate was 0.8% for all airlines put together, the highest rate of cancellation in April since 2014 barring 2021. The same is the case in January and February. In January 2024, the rate was 3.67%. About 5% of Indigo’s flights were cancelled in January 2024.

Cancellations due to weather conditions has increased in recent years

The reasons behind cancellations have been categorized as commercial, weather, operational, technical, and miscellaneous by DGCA in its report. Understanding the reasons for flight cancellations is crucial as it enables airlines to address operational challenges effectively, allocate resources efficiently, and improve passenger satisfaction. By identifying specific factors such as technical issues, weather conditions, or operational constraints, airlines can implement targeted solutions to minimize cancellations, enhance reliability, and provide better support to affected passengers. 

About 43% of the cancellations in 2024 so far have been due to weather conditions. Usually, January is the most affected month in terms of cancellation rates because of the peak winter season. Until 2023, an increase in the share of flights cancelled due to weather is evident. About one in five cancellations between 2014 and 2018 while one in three cancellations were attributed to weather in 2022 and 2023. In short, the cancellation rates due to weather have been on the rise in recent years highlighting how weather conditions are significantly impacting air travel. 

While flight disruptions due to cancellations and delays, especially from weather-related causes, have shown an upward trend, the industry has grappled with operational challenges, financial pressures, and regulatory compliance issues. The COVID-19 pandemic further accentuated vulnerabilities, prompting a re-evaluation of operational strategies and a focus on resilience. The increase in compensation payments underscores the financial toll of these disruptions, emphasizing the need for sustainable practices and efficient resource management. 

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About Author

A bachelor’s degree in mathematics and master’s in social science, she is driven by ardent desire to work with this unique combination to create her own path instead of following the herd. Having served a stint as the college union chairperson, she is a strategist who is also passionate about nature conservation, art and loves solving Sudoku.

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