Nearly half of all flights at Barcelona airport delayed in peak holiday season

Spanish authorities are requesting explanations from Vueling, one of the least punctual airlines in Europe

Travelers at El Prat airport in Barcelona.
Travelers at El Prat airport in Barcelona.Massimiliano Minocri (EL PAÍS)

Barcelona’s El Prat airport is one of the worst offenders in Europe when it comes to delays. Almost one in two flights that left the airport in July were delayed by more than 15 minutes, according to Flightstats, the leading authority on airline statistics. The situation has worsened in recent months, partly due to flight delays from low-cost carrier Vueling, which accounts for 37% of El Prat’s traffic.

In July, Spain’s Public Works Ministry threatened Vueling with sanctions proceedings over its frequent delays, and it has summoned the airline’s senior officials to explain what contingency plan it has in place to solve the problem. The ministry has also asked the airport authority AENA for a report on El Prat, which is struggling to cope with the excess demand.

41% of Vueling flights were delayed in July

Vueling, which is owned by the International Airline Group (IAG), along with Iberia and British Airways, is one of the airlines with the highest number of flight delays in Europe. According to Flightstats, Vueling ranks 44th out of 46 European airlines in terms of punctuality. In July, 41% of its flights were delayed, with the waiting period an average of 61 minutes.

The company has lost €11 million to June, a loss that Vueling president Javier Sánchez-Prieto last week blamed on the strike by French air traffic controllers, which cost the company €20 million in compensation payments and operating costs.

In an internal memo published by the Catalan daily Ara, Sánchez-Prieto that admitted the situation is “unacceptable” and recognized the company’s “frustration.” Vueling is blaming the lack of air space caused by the strike in France.

The company also maintains that is has done everything possible to prevent delays and cancellations: “We are one of the airlines with the largest number of reserve planes and crew, with eight reserve planes and 30 crew teams.”

Sánchez-Prieto met recently with various Catalan authorities to explain the problems at El Prat airport and promised to “anticipate issues as much as possible.” Vueling said that it is more difficult to reschedule passenger flights in the summer, and that storms forecast for the end of this week could complicate their efforts.

The problem of punctuality is much more complex than just what happens in an airport

Javier Gándara, Airline Association

According to Javier Gándara, the president of the Airline Association, “the problem of punctuality is much more complex than just what happens in an airport; you have to consider the entire air space.”

“It affects all airlines but especially Vueling because of its importance at El Prat airport,” he added.

AENA has said the situation in El Prat is due to numerous factors. As well as the strike, the airport has been affected by weather events. “Ordinary airline operations cannot be resumed from one day to the next. Time is needed to normalize the situation,” the airport operator explained.

El Prat airport has experienced similar problems every summer since 2016, when Vueling cancelled various flights from Barcelona, wreaking havoc at the airport and stranding nearly 10,000 people.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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