How does flight delays work?

Time is of the essence in the air travel industry. Both the airlines operating various flights as well as the airport management and aviation authorities combine every possible effort to make things work on schedule. This is because even a single delay or punctuality breach of any sort can cause a domino effect, thus jeopardizing everything from incoming and outgoing flights to massive crowds of passengers stuck at the airport.

Still, there are events, often unprecedented, which cannot be stopped by any means. A flight delay is an example of an event that can cause irreparable trouble and disruption to not just the operating airline and its passengers, but to other scheduled flights and their passengers at the same time at that airport until things normalize again.

This article explains how flight delays work, what trouble can a flight delay cause, and most importantly how passengers should deal with flight delay situations.

So, let’s begin.

What is a flight delay?

A flight delay happens when either an incoming flight to an airport lands or an outgoing flight from an airport takes off – later than it is scheduled to be or the push back of the flight has been delayed. to learn more about flight push back, please read my blog “Aircraft Pushback Time – Why is Pushback Time so Important for the Airline?

In simple words, a flight delay occurs when a scheduled flight deviates from its timetable, either at the landing or taking off stage.

Difference between flight delays and flight cancellations

If you aren’t unsure about the difference between a flight delay and a flight cancellation, then here is what you need to know.

Having explained the flight delay above, let us directly talk about flight cancellations.

A flight cancellation occurs when an airline is unable to operate a scheduled flight. This means that they had to cancel it either completely, in which case you might be able to get a refund or compensation or reschedule it for another time, in which case you may or may not be entitled to get a refund or compensation, depending on certain factors.

What causes flight delays?

Flight delays can be caused for several different reasons. Remember that operating flights isn’t as easy a job as it may seem like. It isn’t in any way just about picking up a bunch of passengers along with their luggage, serving them food, and then dropping them at a destination to again pick up another bunch of passengers and so on.

Airlines are operating under tight checks and controls and do their best to fulfill their commitments to everyone involved. However, they can only exercise their control and keep a check over a limited number of factors. Thus, when factors that aren’t under the airline’s control come into play, disruptions like flight delays occur.

This section lists down a few of these factors which no airline whatsoever may have control over.

Some common reasons that cause flight delays

  1. Over the last few decades, the number of people using air travel has grown massively. Consequently, this means that airports have become busier than before as well. At any given time in a busy airport, many planes both in the air and at the airport require timely landing and takeoff permissions respectively. In such a case, air traffic control (ATC) restrictions can cause flight delays while handling air traffic rush.
  2. Unfavorable weather conditions are also a great cause of flight delays. Any flight delay due to adverse weather conditions either at the flight takeoff or landing time will cause a delay in what follows.
  3. Another huge factor causing regular flight delays is a bird strike. While bird strikes don’t cause much damage, they do cause much trouble. This is because certain procedures as per security protocols need to be adhered to in case of a bird strike. Performing such procedures requires more time and thus causes flight delays.
  4. A sudden call from the airline and/or airport staff for a strike or a go-slow is another main reason causing flight delays.
  5. Rotational delay or knock-off effect happens when a plane faces a delay in arriving at an airport because of a delay caused on its previous route.
  6. Probably you are aware of connecting flights. Hence, when a connecting flight gets late or luggage transfer between connecting flights gets delayed, it ultimately impacts the next flight.
  7. Crew availability is another factor causing flight delays. While in a strike or a go-slow situation crew members may not be willing to work at all, the non-availability of crew members inside the aircraft is another factor causing flight delay. As a general rule, passengers aren’t allowed to board an aircraft until the minimum number of the flight crew is present inside the plane.
  8. Security clearance for an aircraft to take off is another key factor causing flight delays. Several conditions need to be met before an airplane’s engine can be turned on. Hence, any minor issues with getting security clearance will ultimately cause the flight delay.

How long can a flight be delayed?

Ascertaining a minimum or maximum time limit for a flight delay is hard as the same cannot be applied in each case. A flight delay can be anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of hours until the reason for its delay has been resolved. Hence, knowing the exact time for a flight delay to get over depends on the cause of the delay.


What to do if your flight gets delayed?

An unusual flight delay can cause a panic situation for many passengers at the airport. Thus, it is important to know how to deal with a flight delay should you face one.

As someone facing a flight delay, your first step should be to contact the airline counter at the airport, the airline helpline or customer service number, and even your travel agent if you hired one. These are the people who know exactly how to help you in the best possible way in such a situation.

Moving forward comes one of the most prominent topics related to flight delays and cancellations. It is about knowing whether passengers are entitled to a full or partial refund or compensation or nothing at all. Well, this depends on certain factors.

Factors such as the cause of the delay itself, flight delay duration, and passengers’ rights protection laws and regulations of the place the flight is heading to or coming from play a key role in how passengers facing flight delay will be dealt with.

For instance, Europe has some of the strictest rules governing passenger rights and affairs. However, this isn’t the case in the US.

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