5 Surprising Things about Bad Weather and Flights

Bad Weather and Flight Delays

Bad weather is responsible for the overwhelming number of flight delays – 70% of them – and we certainly had our share of delays and cancelations during this past winter.

Snow in Vegas, Snow in Dallas

Remember how snow delayed flights in Dallas just in time for the Super Bowl? It’s even snowed in Las Vegas! Yes, wicked winter weather is no fun for flyers, but did you know? Summer can be worse.

Five Surprising Things about Bad Weather

Before you step aboard your next flight, take a look at these surprising facts about bad weather, flight delays and cancellations – and you. Tips on how to deal with flight delays are at the end.

1. Summer Storms vs. Winter Weather

Guess what? The FAA says summers storms are worse than winter ones, and here’s the money quote from one of its fact sheets: “Unlike winter storms, which take time to develop and move slowly, summer storms can form quickly, stretch for hundreds of miles and travel rapidly over large portions of the country.”

Last year, the worst month for delays wasn’t in winter; May and June led the way, followed by December, then July.

2. Thunderstorms and Big Detours

Sure, there are some thunderstorms in the wintertime, but they are far more frequent and more intense in the spring and summer; in fact, pilots are trained not to go anywhere near them, if they can help it. Veteran Alaska Airlines Capt. Sean Cassidy told FareCompare that, “Depending on the nature of the thunderstorm activity, you might fly as much as 20 miles or more around a thunderstorm.” Sometimes that means a 40 mile detour. Such common sense actions can create delays but no one wants to experience nasty storm-related turbulence if at all possible.

3. Summer Can be Frosty

Iced airplane wings can be a problem even in summer – not on the ground, of course, but those planes fly high and pilots are always on the alert for such occurrences.

4. Ground Fires and Weather

I was fascinated by an article on the Flight Safety Foundation website that states wildfires, if they’re big enough and conditions are right, can create their own “weather”. This can result in updrafts, downdrafts and ultimately, extreme turbulence. Bottom line: a bright sunny day is no guarantee of smooth sailing.

5. Mother Nature’s Surprise Pranks

Tornados causing delays? Check. It happened at the St. Louis airport last month. Volcanoes? Check. It happened last year when the one in Iceland started spewing ash and ultimately resulted in world-wide flight delays for thousands and thousands of travelers.

Tips for Flight Delays or Cancellations

When delays or cancellations occur or even if you think they might occur, contact your airline ASAP. Do not wait.

  • At the airport: get in line to speak to a gate agent at the first sign of trouble
  • Multi-task: call your airline while you wait in line; it might be quicker
  • Follow airlines on Twitter: airlines often respond most quickly to complaints/problems from social media followers
  • Plan ahead: if you know you might miss a connecting flight, contact the airline beforehand; the earlier you do this, the better your chance of getting one of the all-too-few seats on the next available flight

Got any surprising stories about your own flight delays?

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More from Rick Seaney:

Flight Delays: 5 Things You Must Know About the Weather

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Published: May 4, 2011