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Home > Air Travel > What causes flight delays?
What causes flight delays?
Flying - Air Travel
Tuesday, 11 December 2007 21:31


Occasional delays are part of air travel today. Much as we dislike delays, we cannot avoid them, even in the most well-run airlines. Modern airplanes are extremely expensive (Boeing 777 costs about US$175 million each) and airlines cannot afford to maintain a spare aircraft to cater for unforeseen technical problems unless it is a very large operator. So if your airplane has a technical problem, inevitably there would be delays. It would be cumulative because the same aircraft will be used for later flights. The next time you are told of a technical delay, think of safety. Would you rather have the engineers rectify the defects thus delaying your flight, or would you risk your life with a problematic airplane?

Passengers sometimes are upset with the front line staff or representatives for delayed flights. Usually the poor souls have nothing to do with the delays other than for not giving timely information about delays. According to Warsaw Convention, passengers have no rights in compensation for flight delays.

Beside technical problems, delays also arise when the skies become more crowded as more and more people want to travel by air. Most of the delays prior to departure, when all are ready to go, are attributed to obtaining air traffic clearances or given a later slot time to take off due to many traffic queuing on a particular route. Other times, before the doors are closed, delays are caused by passengers who failed to turn up after checking in their bags. In view of strict security measures, this would require the airlines to identify and physically remove the bags, further delaying the flight.

Pilots do not deliberately delay flights for no good reasons. Any delays, even for a minute, would have to be explained in details to the management in writing. Failure to give satisfactory reasons will entail a visit to the office for further explanation. In one airline, the Captain delayed his flight for more than an hour just because he had not taken his meal. He was subsequently suspended!

Air Traffic Clearances

If you traveling in and out of airports around New York, the skies are extremely busy. Ron Morgan, the director of air traffic for FAA in Washington D.C. revealed that the US has fifty percent of all traffic control in the world. It is no wonder that delays out of Newark, an airport that I operated into on the Boeing 777, are the norms. The New York air space is one of the busiest areas for air traffic in the world! Flying across the Atlantic requires specific oceanic clearances for the routes are never fixed. They changes in accordance with the jet streams and weather. Very often, pilots filed a certain route on the flight plan but are then given another routing just before departure!

In many other regions of the world, air spaces are also getting very congested as well. In airspaces around the Far East where radar coverage is not available, most delays are attributed to obtaining air traffic clearances along common routes during the peak times. Here, the air traffic controllers have to sequence their departures at 10 minutes interval to in order to maintain a safe separation. In such situations, delays are almost inevitable as your plane wait at the parking bay, all ready to go, but not permitted to start the engines because the plane has not received air traffic clearance yet! Until future air navigation is fully implemented, air traffic delays would continue.


Passengers themselves often delay flights too. If a passenger with no check-in baggage fail to turn up at the stipulated time, he would be left behind. However, on international flights, passengers who have checked in with bags and failed to show up, either because they were so engrossed with their duty free shopping or got lost in the complex terminal, the flight cannot depart unless their check-in bags are off-loaded. The rationale is that, there are some terrorists who may plant explosives that may not be detected by X-rays in their bags and deliberately missed the flight (Lockerbie incident). So their bags must be located and off-loaded as a precaution before the aircraft can depart.


Flights are also delayed due to poor weather like snow, heavy rain, microburst activities in the vicinity of thunderstorms or thick fog. In such situations, aircraft may be subjected to holding in the air for weather improvement or air traffic controllers may impose wider separation between aircraft for safety reasons.

Technical Defects

Modern aircraft is very reliable technically. Many redundant systems are designed to allow aircraft to proceed with minor defects. However, Murphy Law states that '..if a system can fail, it will fail...'. So technically, some systems may fail before flight and they must be rectified. The philosophy that 'it is better to arrive safe than never' is very true. Therefore, be patient if you are delayed by a small technical defect. Although delayed, you can now feel at ease, knowing fully well that the aircraft is in good condition for the rest of the journey.


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Comments (6)

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... , Low-rated comment [Show]
this really helped me for homework lolsmilies/grin.gif
nathan , 06 Jun, 2012
Logic , Low-rated comment [Show]
Flight Delay Compensation

What you need is Flight Claim UK if you are looking for experts on flight delay compensation. You might be supported from the EU rules so do not you be concerned much. From postponed or cancelled air flights to travellers obtaining rejected to table the plane, you may get paid for your hassle it presented. Make contact with them now to be aware what they could do to assist you and what you should know.

Thank you smilies/smiley.gif
Brandon , 24 Feb, 2015
Warsaw Convention
Article 19 - The carrier is liable for damage occasioned by DELAY in the transportation by air of passengers, baggage or cargo.
Kyle , 21 Oct, 2015
Recently our takeoff was delayed because of contrails from heavy flight operations on holiday. I think they held us on runway 5 minutes before each plane could takeoff. Why is this a reason to delay?
Ray , 02 Jan, 2017

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