Bad weather can cause airline delays, but do not blame the airline... blame the situation.

Bad weather can cause airline delays, but do not blame the airline... blame the situation.

Delays bite. You have a schedule, a plan and then when your flight becomes delayed, everything gets thrown off. Maybe your connection is missed, maybe the person picking you up gets annoyed or maybe  you miss the important meeting you were flying for to begin with. Although these delays happen and are annoying, they are just a part of this very vast and complex airline industry.

Just this week I have had two flights that were both delayed more than two hours. Tis the season for delays right? The first was from Las Vegas (LAS) to Bellingham (BLI). The plane was late getting to Vegas due to de-icing issues in Bellingham. The airline did a great job keeping us informed, but it didn’t stop the 2.5hr delay. We boarded only about an hour late and were expecting to be de-iced in LAS before taking off. Unfortunately there was an issue with the de-icing truck and another one had to be used. Once we were de-iced and pushed back there was another delay to re-file the flight plans.

The other entailed a flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to Seattle (SEA). The pilots who were supposed to be on our flight were stuck because of weather. So, new pilots were flown in from San Francisco (SFO). It was expected for them to arrive shortly, so we were boarded. Then their flight got delayed and we ended up sitting on the plane for 1.5hrs before take off, creating a 2.5hour total delay.

On one flight I was not home until 2:30am and the second 12:30am and with both I had to be at work the very next day. As always there were folks who were quite upset at the airline. I was unhappy with the situation for sure, but understanding to the why it happened.

I honestly think some passengers think airlines like to delay flights just to anger them. People act like their entire lives have been ruined. Doesn’t seem to matter if it is weather, maintenance or crew issues, people just get angry. The airline business of moving around planes and people, keeping on schedules, dealing with weather, gate issues, flight crew hours, air traffic, personnel issues and much more is extremely complex. When you stop and think about all that is involved, it is no wonder that there aren’t more delays.

I also hear people wondering why airlines don’t put in more buffer time between the time they arrive and leave (the turn-around time). Well, the problem is that passengers want the cheapest tickets possible and with airlines time is money. Every minute a plane is sitting on the ground, it is losing money. Airlines work very hard to reduce the amount of time they spend on the ground to help keep fares competitive.

Passengers also think airlines are lying to them. If their destination has nice weather and where they at has nice weather, they wonder how their flight could possibly be delayed. One reason could be the weather seen en-route. An airplane might have to re-route taking time. Another could be the weather at the city where the plane started out the day. By the time your plane gets to your airport at 5pm, it might have been all over the country (even world) and got delayed at 8am due to weather and has been delayed since.

Trust me, airlines do not like delays any more than you, especially when dealing with the last flight of the day. The executives don’t like the idea of losing money and the flight crew don’t want to be getting to their hotel, crash pad or home late either. Smaller airlines and airports have limited crews that normally would be going home on-time, but need to stay. When flying into Bellingham at 1:30am, I doubt the airport staff would have normally been there.

Any form of transportation has their issues. Trains and buses also have their fair share of delays. Heck, just driving around in your own car has delays. Many (way too many) times I have been driving in Seattle trying to go just 10 miles and it can take me over and hour — and that is not even during rush hour. I get angry, but who to blame? It is just part of the complex road system, living among a larger population, and being a member of our society.

This does not mean I like delays by any means. I have many people that can attest that patience is not a strong suit of mine and waiting around not doing anything bothers me. However, when delayed with an airline, I realize most delays are beyond the airline’s control and take a deep breath. I also imagine what my exact trip would have been like just 100 years ago (or even 300 years ago). I am sure people taking months covering the distance we do in a few hours wouldn’t mind a little delay of an airplane.

All that being said, happy travels to all of you flying for the holiday and try to be a bit understanding if your next flight is delayed.

Image: Eddie Moy

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & FOUNDER - SEATTLE, WA. David has written, consulted, and presented on multiple topics relating to airlines and travel since 2008. He has been quoted and written for a number of news organizations, including BBC, CNN, NBC News, Bloomberg, and others. He is passionate about sharing the complexities, the benefits, and the fun stuff of the airline business. Email me:
Airline Liveries of the WeeK: HAPPY HOLIDAYS

I find that I’m much better off in all of life’s situations if I can center and balance myself — not the situation. And then try and figure out a way to be a part of the solution and not contribute to the problem. It’s difficult sometimes.

The problem with passengers wanting the cheapest ticket possible is that they are rarely cheap, especially around this time of year. However, I do agree that a majority of the delays are out of the airline’s hands. Weather, Airport issues, de-icing, and other factors play a huge role in flight delays.

Where I live( Canada), weather and de-icing are two of the biggest reasons flights are either cancelled or delayed. It can take upwards of 1/2 hour to get the plane from the gate, to the de-icing trucks, to the runway. This is especially so if the airport is spread out. Fog and snow are also among the handful of uncontrollable factors.

With that said, I don’t think airlines have an excuse if a crew fails to show up on time. They have plenty of other employees on standby to take their position. If the airline fails to supply a spare crew, it’s on them to ensure their communication systems between management and employees are fixed.

I’d think you’d agree David, that delays are few and far between. The odd one is expected, but it hasn’t become a consistant problem.

Merry Christmas David,

Well put David! I tend to agree with everything you said in this peice. The gate agents do not like to be a part of delays either cause they want to go home as well. The last thing they need is angry passengers taking out their frustrations on them. They are after all people too and do not deserve that kind of treatment. Keep up the great blog and look forward to your next post.


I really like Eddie Moy’s photo.

Now again with that bizzard going through the upper east coast there are delays and cancellations again. It was just reported on the news that American Airlines was virtually shut down in New York and Washington by the storm there.

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