Asheville Regional Airport feels nationwide delay, cancellation trends

AIrport on-time performance data
FLYING LOW: Asheville Regional Airport has consistently lagged behind its regional peers in on-time performance over the latest year for which information is available. Graphic by Scott Southwick

When Tom McDonnell moved from Cleveland to the Asheville area in 2020, among the reasons he and his wife, Linda, chose to live in Fairview was its proximity to the Asheville Regional Airport. As vice president of member relations at Associated Electric & Gas Insurance Services, Tom regularly flies across the eastern half of the U.S. But with airline delays and cancellations increasing throughout the country, he’s changed his approach.

“If you fly American [Airlines] and have to connect in [the Charlotte Douglas International Airport], it’s almost the exact amount of time to drive there than to connect when you factor everything in,” McDonnell says. “Twice in July on my way home, I was delayed getting into CLT and would have missed my connection into AVL. As a former risk manager, I’m just taking one risk variable out of the equation.”

Such are the decisions facing airline passengers as the industry struggles to recover from the crippling effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Subsequent staffing issues have led to ongoing flight delays and cancellations, even as pandemic-related travel restrictions have lifted.

According to data from flight tracking firm FlightAware, 121,918 flights involving U.S. airports were canceled from January-June 2022 — more than the total for all of 2021 and roughly 2.8% of total flights for the period. Over that same stretch, more than 890,000 flights were delayed, representing 20.2% of the total; the first half of 2021 saw about 456,000 delays, or 13.1% of the total.

How has the Asheville Regional Airport held up through these challenges?

AVL spokesperson Tina Kinsey notes that the airport tracks cancellations through self-reported data from its airlines each month. The most recent stats show a 94.7% flight completion rate for 889 scheduled flights in May, down from 99.9% of 891 flights in May 2021. (In May 2020, at the height of the pandemic, only 50.3% of 447 scheduled flights were completed. But citing various factors, Kinsey calls 2020 “an anomaly year” and “not a good comparison to other years.”)

“Staffing shortages continue to be very real across the industry, so it can take a little longer for ticketing, check-in, security screening, ground handling of aircraft and baggage retrieval,” Kinsey says. “We encourage patience and kindness as the aviation industry continues to work toward full team support again. But as you can see from our numbers, most flights are operating as scheduled at AVL.”

Compared with regional peers, AVL appears to be doing worse in terms of cancellations. At the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport, 99.5% of 1,303 scheduled May flights were completed, down only slightly from the 99.9% of 1,219 flights in May 2021. And at CLT, 98.7% of 19,212 scheduled May flights were completed, also down from the 99.7% of 21,487 flights in May 2021.

AVL does not track delays, but the U.S. Department of Transportation’s monthly Air Travel Consumer Reports include percentages of on-time arrivals and departures for each of the country’s airports. Xpress compiled stats for AVL from May 2021-May 2022 and compared them with figures for GSP and CLT.

Over that period, Asheville’s airport has consistently lagged behind its regional peers in on-time performance. In May, for example, about 73.6% of AVL flights arrived or left on time, compared with 80.5% of GSP operations and 77.5% of CLT flights.

In response to those numbers, Kinsey says that because AVL doesn’t record specific reasons for delays or any other information relating to them, it’s difficult to discuss comparisons with other airports. AVL keeps the airport open for airlines to operate their flights, she continues, and the condition of airport operations does not typically contribute to delays.

“We do receive feedback about delays, but the amount of this feedback is small,” Kinsey says. “I think what is telling is that the customer utilization at AVL is at historic highs. We have exceeded previous historic high numbers of passengers every month this year except January, so a growing number of passengers continue to seek service to and from AVL.”

Kinsey also points out that every airport manages a different combination of airlines and routes. Some airports have a high number of flights on “legacy” carriers, such as American, Delta and United, with a large business travel mix or international routes flying to major hubs. Others, like AVL, have a different combination of air service and focus more on leisure routes. At Asheville’s airport, she continues, roughly 60% of the service provided comes from “ultralow-cost carriers” such as Allegiant and Sun Country that offer point-to-point leisure routes.

“The mix of routes offered and frequency of service to those routes is also important,” Kinsey says. “Some areas of the country are more prone to weather delays than others — delays often occur because of weather in origin or destination cities, or in route to those cities. Also, as we all know, weather in Western North Carolina can pose issues at times.”


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About Edwin Arnaudin
Edwin Arnaudin is a staff writer for Mountain Xpress. He also reviews films for and is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (SEFCA) and North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA). Follow me @EdwinArnaudin

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