During my 25-year airline career, I have experienced numerous cancellations and delays. Below, are a list of reasons why flights are canceled, or delayed.
Weather is the number one reason for airline flight cancellations and delays.
(Ice, snow, fog, lightning, severe thunderstorms).
Air Traffic Delays
Flights can be delayed due to a lack of available gates, runways closed, ground stops (severe weather, emergency).
Other air traffic delays include landings/takeoffs, heavy air traffic, heavy air traffic from other airports close by.
For example, in the New York vicinity, there are several commercial airports in close proximity:
New York-JFK, New York-LaGuardia, Newark, White Plains, Islip, Hartford-Bradley International Airport, and Philadelphia.
Air Force One takeoff/landings can also create air traffic delays.
Weather issues are very common reasons why aircrafts are put into a “holding pattern” until weather conditions improve.
Tarmac Delay Rule
If takeoff delays are expected to last more than 3 hours, the airline must return to the gate within 3 hours, to allow passengers the option of deplaning. If an aircraft does not return to the gate, the airline may face heavy fines.
During a “tarmac delay”, the captain and/or flight attendant must provide “updates” to the passengers every 10-15 minutes, even if there are no changes to our current position.
For more information on the Tarmac Delay Rule, please review the following sites:
Often aircrafts must taxi over to ade-icing “pad”. Depending on how many de-icing trucks are available, this may determine the delay in taking off. Sometimes, if it is heavy snow or ice, a second or even third de-icing may be necessary.
Airline Crews Issues
Some airline crew issues include:
A. A Lack of required flight attendants and/or pilots.
B. Flight attendants and/or pilots calling in sick.
C. Deadheading crew member inbound flight delayed or canceled.
D. Flight attendant(s) and/or pilots unable to get to the airport due to weather, traffic, or personal reasons.
D. Airline flight attendants or pilots on strike to protest contract disputes.
E. Flight attendant(s) and/or pilots have not received the required amount of “rest” between duty days.
F. Flight attendant(s) and/or pilots have “timed out”. Meaning, they have exceeded the maximum flight hour allowance for the day or week.
G. Reserve flight attendant(s), and/or pilots unable to get to the airport (weather, deadheading flight delay).
H. Lack of reserve flight attendants and/or pilots.
Some issues can be resolved quickly. While other mechanical problems might take several hours (or longer), to repair.
Inbound aircraft delayed or canceled at the departure airport
No “spare”, or extra aircrafts available. If spare aircrafts are not available, this can cause flights to be delayed or canceled.
Damage to inbound aircraft
In 2011, I was working as an Airline Flight Attendant with Chautauqua Airlines. On that day, it was 9/11/2011.
It was a clear day in Grand Rapids. I worked a flight from Grand Rapids to Chicago. Upon take-off, a large flock of birds struck our EMB 145 Regional Aircraft. As a result, severe “bird” damage
caused extensive damage to our aircraft.
The subsequent flight from Chicago to Peoria was canceled. The damaged aircraft was taken to aircraft maintenance for repairs. Took several weeks before the aircraft was fit to fly again.
Passenger ill or injured before the flight departs
Example: While I worked as an Airline Flight Attendant with Chautauqua Airlines, two passengers slipped and fell while boarding our flight from Chicago to Madison (WI).
It was determined, the jetway floor was slippery from ice, snow, and deicing fluid. One woman suffered multiple fractures to her leg. The other woman suffered a broken hip which required surgery, and a lengthy recovery.
Our scheduled flight from Chicago to Madison (WI), was delayed for over an hour.
Security Issues aboard the aircraft
Some security issues include: Flights among passengers. Threats at the gate from a passenger towards a gate agent. Or threats from a passenger towards a flight crew member.
Should any of the above issues take place, the airline may need to cancel or delay the flight.
Inbound or outbound aircraft delayed due to an emergency landing
Examples include: smoke, fire, ill/injured flight attendant or passenger.
Customer service issues (denied boarding, seating issues, etc..)
Mandatory removal of bags and/or passengers due to weight and balance issues.
Weight and balance issues are common. This can occur at any time.
If a flight must take a longer route to reach the destination, extra fuel may be required. Thus, passenger bags and/or passengers may need to be removed, to ensure the aircraft is at the proper weight for taking off.