6 Surprising Things about Weather Delays

Even super-savvy travelers can learn a thing or two about weather. I did from a veteran pilot who flies for a U.S. legacy carrier (and prefers to remain anonymous).

Things to Know about Weather Delays

Weather; it’s complicated.

1. Thunderstorms can be more dangerous than blizzards.

The reasons have to do with the sheer complexity of thunderstorms: “The potential of severe turbulence, lightning strikes, the possibility of icing, hail damage to the aircraft, and significant water ingestion into the engines,” noted the anonymous pilot.

2. Weather is the biggest delay factor in flying.

Yes, sometimes there are mechanical problems but most delays can be traced directly to Mother Nature. According to Federal Aviation Administration data from 2008 to 2013, nearly 70% of all delays were weather-related.

3. More weather-delayed flights in summer than winter.

This information comes from FAA weather delay data for New York City area airports during 2013. Bottom line: While the winter months did (and do) have plenty of delayed flights, the majority of the 2013 weather delays occurred in May, June, and July.

4. Pilots fly around thunderstorms, way around.

“Deviating several hundreds of miles if need be to circumnavigate thunderstorms or lines of thunderstorms is pretty common,” says our anonymous pilot and yes this sometimes makes planes late but we are told airlines also typically pad flight times for just such eventualities.

5. Turbulence is a problem for all seasons.

There are different kinds of turbulence – which can occur year-round – but as the Washington Post puts it, clear air turbulence “ramps up in winter” while convective turbulence more often rattles our seatback tray tables in summer. Plane and Pilotmagazine gets the award for best description of turbulence, referring to it as “the cobblestone sky.”

6. Airline jets don’t break in turbulence.

“Honestly,” said the anonymous pilot, “I have never heard of weather-induced turbulence bringing down a U.S.-based airline aircraft.” It is not something this pilot worries about.

7. How to stay safe in turbulence.

When injuries occur during extreme turbulence (very rare), the victims are almost always people who did not have seat belts fastened (the vast majority are flight attendants because they are so often up and about in the performance of their duties). The anonymous pilot says every passenger on a plane should always have his or her seat belt fastened. Even if the sign says it’s okay to unbuckle.

Let’s make this really clear: Anytime you are seated, buckle up (and unless you’re going to the lavatory, you should be seated).

What to Do about Weather Delays

Fly early: The first flight out can be your best chance to avoid a domino delay effect when delays build upon each other affecting flights throughout the day – even in regions experiencing good weather.

Stay informed: I check FlightStats before leaving for the airport to get a good overall picture of weather at your departing and arrival airports. Follow your airport on Twitter, too, for any late-breaking developments.

Pack light: If you have to move quickly, a carry-on stays with you.

Rick Seaney
Want to Learn How to Save More Money on Travel?
Start Here