Reasons Why Flights Are Canceled Or Delayed

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).

Delta Connection Flight at YQB Airport
Delta Connection Flight at Quebec City, Quebec Airport (YQB)

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.

Planes Awaiting Takeoff
Planes Waiting In Line To Take Off

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.

Aeroflot Aircraft
Aeroflot Aircraft

Airline Crews Issues

Captain and Flight Attendant
Airline captain and flight attendant walking through airport.

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.

Mechanical issues

Some issues can be resolved quickly. While other mechanical problems might take several hours (or longer), to repair.

Flight Departure Board

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.

Lufthansa Airlines' Aircrafts
Lufthansa Airlines’ Aircrafts At Departure Gates

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..)

Airline Customer Service Agents
Airline Customer Service Agents

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.


Late arriving bags and/or passengers

Usually, flights are not held due to bags or passengers late in arriving to board the aircraft. However, if the flight is the last flight of the day to that destination, sometimes the Captain will agree to delay the departure time.

Passenger Luggage
Several pieces of passenger luggage

Based on my experience, if a flight is even one minute late in departing, the Captain may receive a call from the Chief Pilot asking for an explanation, as to why the flight did not depart the gate on time.

Change Of Aircrafts

Normally, a change of aircrafts is built into the Flight Crew’s trip pairing.

Aircrafts Parked At Depature Gates
Aircrafts Parked At Departure Gates

For example, A flight crew is scheduled to work a flight from Grand Rapids to New York-LaGuardia. Then, the flight crew is scheduled to work another flight from New York-LaGuardia Greenville/Spartanburg.

Upon landing in New York-LaGuardia the flight crew leaves the aircraft. Then proceed to work the New York-Greenville/Spartanburg flight, utilizing a different aircraft.

A change of aircrafts is quite common. As an example, during my airline flight attendant careers, I often worked four-day trips.

Over the course of the four days, I was scheduled to work 12-16 flights. The pilots and Imay be required to change aircrafts, at least once per day. The main reason is, aircrafts may be scheduled for routine maintenance. However, if the inbound aircraft is delayed,
or even canceled, this would result in the New York-LaGuardia to Greenville/Spartanburg flight to also be delayed or canceled.

Security Threats At The Airport

Airport Security Photo

Security issues anywhere through an airport can cancel or delay flights. However, the airline may or may not delay a flight, due to the length of time it takes passengers to get through the TSA checkpoint.

Before you leave to go to the airport, check the status of your flight. This may save you time, and even money.

Track flights:

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2017