Flights from British airports were delayed by an average of 16 minutes last year, with Stansted emerging as worst for punctuality, according to new analysis.
Departures from the Essex hub were an average of 25 minutes late in 2018, the poorest record of any of the country’s airports in recent years.
Birmingham and Luton, where flights typically took off 19 minutes behind schedule, recorded the joint second worst punctuality, analysis of Civil Aviation Authority data found.
Departures were late by an average of 16 minutes at all 24 of the country’s major airports in 2018, across scheduled and chartered departures.
Stansted’s performance was described as “completely unacceptable” by a consumer group, but the airport blamed the late takeoffs on “adverse weather and traffic control issues”.
It is the fourth busiest airport in the UK and the largest base for low-cost carriers such as Ryanair.
The 25-minute average delay at Stansted last year outstrips London Luton in 2017 – where flights were an average of 19.7 minutes late – while also beating Gatwick when it came bottom in the three preceding years, peaking at an average of 18 minutes.
Trade body the Airport Operators Association (AOA) said delays were caused by a “range of factors”, including a blast of cold weather brought by the so-called Beast from the East and strikes by air traffic controllers in countries such as France and Belgium.
The AOA added that disruption was also caused by the capacity of UK airspace being constrained.
Cancelled flights were not included in the analysis, meaning Gatwick’s ranking remained unaffected by the three days of chaos caused by a drone persistently flying over the runway last Christmas.
Around 1,000 flights were cancelled or diverted between December 19 and December 21, inconveniencing an estimated 140,000 passengers.
Belfast City airport delayed travellers the least last year, the analysis found, with flights an average of eight minutes late, followed by Liverpool John Lennon airport where delays were an average of 10 minutes.
Doncaster, Sheffield, Exeter and Bournemouth delayed flights for an average of 12 minutes.
Rory Boland, editor of consumer magazine Which? Travel, said: “It’s completely unacceptable for passengers to be regularly delayed by nearly half an hour.
“These delays aren’t just an inconvenience but can leave holidaymakers hundreds of pounds out of pocket because of missed connections, transfers and fines for picking up their hire car late.
“While compensation is available for delays of over three hours, airlines should stop passing the buck and make it easier for their passengers by finally introducing automatic compensation.”
A spokesman for London Stansted said: “Following a particularly challenging summer last year when adverse weather and air traffic control issues had a dramatic impact on airline on-time performance, Ryanair committed to a multimillion-pound investment in additional resourcing and equipment to support its ground operation at London Stansted.
“This investment has already helped deliver significant service improvements to flight punctuality.”
The aviation industry is working with the Department for Transport to modernise the way flights are managed to improve their resilience to disruption and boost capacity.
Research from last year found around 1.3 million passenger journeys to or from UK airports were delayed by at least three hours in the 12 months to June 2018, amounting to 13,000 flights.
Delays of more than three hours entitle travellers to claim compensation under EU rules.
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