While analysts try to calculate the true costs of the two volcanic ash outbreaks on Australian airlines, the question arises as to whether some of the carriers are plucking their numbers for affected passengers out of thin air.

For example, on most days when Qantas and Virgin Australia were cancelling many flights both were saying they had cancelled 200 flights, and that this affected 20,000 passengers each! Really. That’s amazing considering the different size of their fleets, and the fact that they are both saying they were averaging only 100 passengers per cancelled flight.

They would have been going broke anyhow at such low load factors.

The numbers from Jetstar and Tiger have been  more plausible. Tiger cancelled all 60 flights in its schedule yesterday, and said this affected 9000 passengers, which comes out at 150 passengers per 180 seat A320, which is credible.

Jetstar said it had cancelled 70 flights and also dislocated 9000 passengers, which works out at 129 passengers per flight, a few of which would have been on larger A330s and A321s rather than A320s, so that tells us they didn’t have very good sales for those flights regardless of ash issues.

When the truth comes out, it may be that the numbers of affected passengers were far higher than the airlines claimed during the ash crises, or that traffic for the month was poor even before the plumes came into play.