Spanish budget carrier Vueling was the most delayed airline flying from UK airports last year, new research claims.

The International Airlines Group-owned carrier’s UK departures were delayed by an average of 31 minutes last year, according to analysis of Civil Aviation Authority data by the PA news agency.

Thomas Cook Airlines also performed poorly, with average delays of 24 minutes, followed by Wizz Air on 23 minutes.

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Vueling said it had been “hugely affected” by strikes in France.

The research, which covered more than 40 airlines flying from UK airports, found the average delay across all flights was 16 minutes.

Other poor performers included Norwegian Air UK, a subsidiary of Norwegian Air Shuttle, and Eurowings, both of which had average delays of 22 minutes.

Cathay Pacific was the most punctual carrier, although its flights still typically took off eight minutes behind schedule.

Airline passengers faced disruption last summer as French air traffic controllers staged a series of strikes.

Vueling, which serves UK airports such as Heathrow, Gatwick and Edinburgh, said its flights in and out of Barcelona had been hit by action in Marseille.

“During these strikes, Vueling flights to and from Barcelona and the UK could not fly straight across France but instead flew south of the Pyrenees and into the Atlantic, before looping back towards Britain,” a spokesman said.

“The location of Vueling’s [Barcelona] hub close to Marseille means it has been particularly badly affected.”

The carrier also saw its own pilots walk out in May, leading to hundreds of cancellations.

Naomi Leach, of 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.

“The worst airlines need to ensure they have the staff and capacity to run an on-time service – and that they look after their customers if delays do occur.”

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of trade body Airlines UK, which represents UK-registered carriers, said too many flights are affected by the country’s “antiquated airspace”.

He told the BBC: “We support government in its efforts to introduce much-needed modernisation so we can continue to safely and effectively accommodate the ever rising demand for air travel.”

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