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Airports face big test not to repeat last year’s Easter crisis

written by Adam Thorn | March 31, 2023

The 2022 school holidays caused huge queues at Sydney Airport (@joshgnosis)

Australia’s airports face their biggest test yet in their ability to cope with large passenger numbers, with the Easter getaway set to be the busiest holiday period post-COVID-19.

It comes after Qantas significantly increased its capacity on the Golden Triangle of Sydney–Melbourne–Brisbane, alongside a step up in international flights.

Last year’s Easter break saw the all-time record for delays being broken as the industry buckled under the weight of airlines racing back to pre-COVID-19 passenger numbers but with far fewer staff. The issues continued for months, leading to airlines eventually cutting services to mitigate the issues.

However, Sydney Airport believes 2023’s Easter school holidays will be its biggest holiday period since 2019, with 2.4 million passengers forecast to pass through its terminal from 3–23 April.

The business added this would be a 90 per cent recovery compared to the equivalent 21-day Easter peak in 2019, and a 34 per cent increase on last year’s Easter period.


Domestic passengers alone are expected to surpass the 1.5 million mark, a 94 per cent recovery on 2019, and 9 per cent more than 2022.

Sydney Airport chief executive officer Geoff Culbert believes Australians are prioritising holidays despite the “steep airfares”.

“We are ready and excited this Easter school holidays to welcome the largest number of passengers we’ve seen since Christmas 2019,” he said.

“The ongoing momentum in the international recovery is also exciting, with international passenger volumes forecast to be more than double what they were during Easter 2022.

“Across markets like India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, and Canada, we will have more airline capacity in April than we did at any point in 2019. This demonstrates Sydney’s enduring popularity as a destination and the impact of our joint commitment with the NSW government to the Aviation Attraction Fund.”

Queensland is the first state to welcome the start of the school holidays, on 1 April, with all other states, bar South Australia, starting the week after. A full list of dates is at the bottom of this article.

Brisbane Airport also believes capacity on domestic flights is up 2 per cent on last year and up 77 per cent internationally.

Between 1–25 April, Australia’s third busiest airport is forecasting 1.4 million people to pass through the airport, an increase of 13 per cent on last year, due to the recovery in overseas travel.

Airports and airlines have every reason to be confident of avoiding a repeat of last year, with Christmas 2022 largely passing without major issues.

Australian Aviation previously reported how there were even fewer delays and cancellations in December 2022 than the month prior.

BITRE data released by the Department for Transport revealed 71 per cent of flights arrived and departed on time, and just 3.4 per cent were cancelled.

While lower than the long-term average, it’s significantly better than the on-time departure low of 55 per cent recorded in July, when cancellations were 6.4 per cent.

Across the country, domestic flying peaked at 97 per cent pre-pandemic passenger numbers in June 2022, but it came alongside all-time records for delays being broken that month and in April and July.

The poor performance was blamed on a lack of staff, COVID-19-related sickness, and La Niña-related flooding.

Since then, the industry has recruited thousands of extra staff and cut services to improve the passenger experience.

However, the positive result for those flying at Christmas appears to have come as a result of airlines continuing to keep capacity low and prices high.

This Easter, though, will be the first since Qantas added 57 return services per week for Sydney–Melbourne–Brisbane.

The increase raises Qantas’ capacity across the services rise by 11 points to 93 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

The Flying Kangaroo is also adding seats on transcontinental services to and from Perth using the airline’s larger Airbus A330 fleet, while sister carrier Jetstar is boosting its domestic and international flying capacity over the next six months by 15 percentage points.

Australia’s school holidays

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