Airlines brace for busiest day of flights in four years

Jet-setters eager to escape the city for Christmas are being advised to get to the airport early as airlines predict their busiest day in four years.

After years of disruption, the air travel industry is almost back to pre-pandemic levels and expected to reach new heights on Friday as public schools around the country shut their gates for the year.

Qantas and Jetstar are expecting more than 8.5 million passengers on nearly 70,000 flights throughout December and January - more than half a million more people than the same time last year and the most since 2019/20.

Friday will be the group's single busiest day of the holiday period, with more than 150,000 customers set to take to the skies.

Virgin expects to carry 3.3 million passengers across its network during December and January - a nine per cent increase on last year.

The Qantas group has brought forward maintenance on its aircraft, placed extra planes on stand-by and brought on more staff, while Virgin is offering additional services on popular domestic and short-haul international routes.

Sydney Airport
Extra staff are being brought on to help ease passengers through the gates at Sydney Airport.

Newly arrived Sydney Airport boss Scott Charlton said staff were prepared for the airport's biggest holiday period in four years.

"This is the first Christmas holiday since 2019 that the border with mainland China is open and demand is strong, with seat capacity back to pre-COVID levels as we head into 2024," he said.

Across the three-week Christmas period, which stretches from December 14 to January 3, Sydney Airport expects to usher 2.6 million travellers through its terminals - almost 500,000 more than last year.

The Australian aviation industry's on-time performance has nose-dived in recent years, from 90 per cent of flights departing and arriving on time in October 2020 to 71.1 per cent this year, as airlines battle to keep up with rising passenger demand.

Cancellations have increased to 3.8 per cent from the long-term average of 2.2 per cent.

While Sydney Airport does not anticipate any more delays than usual, extra staff are being brought on to help ease passengers through the gates.

It advised customers to turn up early and pre-book parking as space was likely to be at a premium.

The last two Fridays before Christmas are traditionally the busiest days of the period as travellers make a hasty getaway after schools and businesses wind down for the year.

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