Why Cut-Price Long-Haul Flights Can Mean Arriving Late

(Bloomberg) -- Discount carriers Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA and AirAsia X may fly you between continents for significantly less than many other operators, but there’s also a good chance you’ll arrive late.

The Malaysian airline and the U.K. arm of Norwegian, global trailblazers in low-cost long-haul travel, were among the worst six performers last year for arrivals 15 minutes beyond the advertised time, according to information provided to Bloomberg by flight-scheduling specialist OAG.

The rankings show the challenges in applying the no-frills model that has thrived on short-haul routes to the more complex inter-continental market. Discount specialists lack the mammoth hubs of their full-service rivals, leaving them with fewer resources to fall back on when things go wrong.

Why Cut-Price Long-Haul Flights Can Mean Arriving Late

Almost two-fifths of services at Norwegian’s U.K. arm were late in 2018, partly because the airline had to ground some Boeing Co. 787 jets -- among the most modern flying -- for repairs to their Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc engines. Bigger carriers such as British Airways also idled planes but were better able to cope.

“These are developing long-haul airlines and their fleet sizes are not as large as those of some of the legacy airlines,” OAG director John Grant said. “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.”

The OAG data concerns the Norwegian Air UK Ltd. arm of the Nordic carrier, which operates long-haul flights from London’s Gatwick airport to the Americas and Asia. A spokesman pointed to the impact of the engine-related groundings, while adding that the rankings show 75 percent of flights at the group’s main business, which predominantly operates short-haul services, were on time, placing it in the top 20 among low-cost carriers.

AirAsia X said it views on-time performance as a key indicator not only for guest satisfaction but also operational efficiency and cost, and that it holds a weekly meeting to review recent figures and investigate irregular delays.

The carrier is the long-haul arm of AirAsia Group Bhd., Southeast Asia’s largest budget carrier, and serves destinations spanning the Middle East to Hawaii and Australia to Japan from hubs in Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Bali using a fleet of Airbus SE A330 wide-body jets.

Six of the 10 worst on-time performers were from Asia, where tropical weather can severely impact flights. The development of airports and terminal capacity there also lags behind growth in demand, compromising the ability of airlines to quickly turn around their aircraft, Grant said.

Ranked bottom overall is Portugal’s TAP SGPS SA, where more than 42 percent of services arrived late last year. The carrier told Bloomberg it faces “huge infrastructural constraints” in Lisbon and is working with the government and airport operator ANA, owned by Vinci SA, to secure investment.

In the meantime, TAP has set up a fleet of three backup aircraft, hired more pilots and crew, improved boarding procedures, revised its timetables and signed crucial union agreements. That has helped reduce flight cancellations and boosted punctuality, it said in an email.

For a carrier to be included in the rankings, OAG must have data for at least 80 percent of its scheduled services. Among absentees is Ryanair Holdings Plc, where flights were last year disrupted by strikes but for which insufficient data is available for some operations in Eastern Europe.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.