The Top 5 Reasons for Flight Delays and What You Can Do

Flight delays are the worst part of traveling. Some flight delays are avoidable, and some are out of the airline’s control.

In this article, we have listed out five of the reasons and solutions to what can be done in case of flight delays.

Ever had your flight delayed just minutes before boarding time? Have you been stuck on a faulty plane waiting to take off for hours? You’re not alone.

By being prepared and planning, you can reduce the chances of having your holiday ruined by a canceled flight or unexpected delay.

We have segregated reasons that do and do not fall under the airline’s control so that you know what exactly is happening behind the scenes.

So read on and take control of your travel plans!

Disruption is not within the airline’s control

1. Air Traffic Control Delays

When you’re stuck in the airport because your flight’s been delayed, it’s easy to feel like you’re being punished for no reason—but it may not be anyone’s fault but air traffic control.

Air traffic control (ATC) delays are a major cause of flight delays, and they often happen when either the departure or arrival airports become too congested.

The sheer number of planes flying in and out can cause a backlog since ATC has to coordinate all the planes’ entry and existence from their respective airports.

To avoid this type of delay, you have a few options:

If you’re able to choose your flight time, try to book away from peak hours (the peak hour time may vary depending on the airport and its locality). Furthermore, check the status of your flight in advance—any major changes will be updated on a real-time basis.

You can use flight tracking websites like Flightradar24, Radarbox, FlightAware for real-time tracking of the traffic and air congestion happening at your nearest airport.

Chances are, you might notice some aircraft in a holding pattern for a longer time or diverting to another airport. This will give you an idea that the ATC at the airport is facing some issues handling aircraft at the airport.

Alternatively, consider flying out from an alternate airport nearby; if one is highly congested and another isn’t, the latter might result in fewer delays for your flight.

2. Weather Conditions

Nobody can control the weather, which remains one of the main causes of flight delays.
Weather will have a 26.6% share of delays as a percent of total delay minutes, by 2021, according to the Bureau Of Transportation Statistics (BTS).

From snow and rain to strong winds, air traffic control often holds flights during inclement weather to avoid turbulence and other risks associated with more extreme conditions.

While you may not have control over the weather, you can take some proactive steps. First, keep an eye on the weather forecast. If you’re flying out of a particularly rainy, windy, or icing area, you might want to look into other options or book another flight with more favorable conditions.

It’s also important to pay attention to any delay notices you receive from your airline, or check their app for updated travel information. Then make sure you set aside enough time at the airport in case extra security measures are put in place due to bad weather.

If there are any delays due to weather conditions, you’ll be prepared for them.

Here’s what you can do to tackle this type of delay.

If you are planning your journey months before the date of departure, make sure you plan ahead and try to avoid the monsoon and winter.

As the chances of the weather turning from bad to severe are high. If you are a frequent flier, make sure you check the weather in advance on websites like Windy, AccuWeather, MSN Weather. This preparation can help you avoid potential travel disruptions caused by adverse weather conditions.

In case you’re stuck at the airport not knowing what’s happening outside with little to no internet connection, some airports provide METAR (Meteorological Aerodrome Report) and TAF (Terminal Aerodrome Forecast), which is usually a 24-hour weather forecast.

Example of METAR and TAF report elements.

METAR: LFPG 031130Z 28016KT 9999 SCT028 SCT083 19/11 Q1022 TEMPO 29015G25KT SCT020TCU

TAF: KDFW 031120Z 0312/0418 14011KT P6SM SCT070 SCT250
FM041000 17011KT P6SM SCT020 BKN035
FM041400 16011KT P6SM VCSH BKN020

While METAR and TAF reports may appear confusing at first, learning how to decode TAF can be immensely helpful in such situations.

3. Airport Congestion and Maintenance

Some of the most common reasons for flight delays are things you can’t control, like airport congestion and maintenance.

Whether due to the number of planes in the air or a randomly selected security check on the tarmac, airport congestion can lead to delays.

Airports strive to minimize delays, but they sometimes happen.

Maintenance is another important but time-consuming task that can lead to flight delays. Airplanes require regular inspections and repairs to ensure safety.

While airlines try to schedule maintenance during off-peak hours, it’s sometimes necessary to delay a flight to complete essential maintenance work.

While there’s not much you can do to prevent airport congestion and maintenance-related delays, there are a few things you can do to minimize the impact on your travel plans:

  • Check your flight status before you leave for the airport. This will give you early warning of any delays, so you can adjust your plans accordingly.
  • Allow plenty of time for your trip. This will give you a buffer if your flight is delayed, and you need to make alternate arrangements.
  • Be prepared to wait. If your flight is delayed, be patient and understanding. Airline staff and airport personnel are working hard to get you to your destination as quickly as possible.

Disruptions within the Airline’s control

4. Security Constraints

The most common reason for delays is security constraints. Equipment constraints could be related to the aircraft or airport, while security constraints typically involve rules that must be followed before your flight takes off.

Security protocols can also cause delays—especially during peak hours of travel when the lines become longer, and more intense scrutiny is required (for example, the use of additional equipment such as pat-downs).

Chances are, you might be unintentionally carrying a prohibited item that’s not allowed onboard. Devices such as laptops, tablets, e-readers, and handheld game consoles.

If the screening technology triggers an alarm, you may need to undergo a pat-down procedure. You will be asked to remove personal electronics from your carry-on handbag.

Any liquid, gel, or aerosol must be packed following the 3-1-1 rule, which states, 3.4 ounces or fewer in a 1-quart clear plastic bag. All liquids must fit in one bag, and only one bag per passenger is allowed.

To avoid this type of delay, plan to pack appropriately and arrive early at the airport, so you have plenty of time to get through security smoothly.

5. Operational delays

Operational delay is a delay to a flight that is caused by factors related to the airline’s operations, such as crew shortages, technical failure, or flight planning issues.

These delays are distinct from weather delays, which are caused by adverse weather conditions, and air traffic control delays, which are caused by congestion in the airspace.

Operational delays are a common occurrence in the airline industry. These delays are given a standard code by IATA under AHM 780, Aircraft Movement Message.

They can be frustrating for passengers. Airlines do their best to minimize operational delays, but they are sometimes unavoidable.

Overview of what falls under an airline’s operational delays:

1. Passenger and baggage handling

Flight delays can also be attributed to factors involving passengers and baggage. Delays caused by passengers and baggage are defined by IATA as delay codes starting with 1.

Late check-in and the acceptance of passengers after the deadline can cause delays, especially during busy travel times.

Congestion in the check-in area can further worsen the situation. Check-in errors and oversale, including booking errors, can lead to disruptions as airlines work to resolve these issues.

Boarding discrepancies, paging for missing passengers at the gate, and handling special cases like commercial publicity, passenger convenience, VIPs, the press, ground meals, and missing personal items can contribute to delays.

Even aspects like catering orders, when late or incorrect, can cause setbacks. Additionally, baggage processing, sorting, and assisting passengers with reduced mobility during boarding and deboarding can also impact flight schedules.

It’s crucial for airlines to manage these passenger and baggage-related factors efficiently to minimize delays and ensure a smoother travel experience for all.

2. Cargo and Mail Handling

Delays in the aviation industry can also be attributed to issues related to cargo and mail handling, covered by delay code 2. It is uncommon to have a 3+ hour delay due to cargo or mail, but we can’t deny the fact that these are sufficient to bring a halt to your flight for a brief period of time.

Documentation errors, such as inaccuracies or omissions, can lead to processing delays. Late positioning of cargo, which involves getting it to the right place at the right time, can disrupt the cargo loading process.

Similarly, late acceptance of cargo can set back departure times. Inadequate packing of cargo may necessitate repacking or additional checks, leading to delays.

Oversale or booking errors can result in logistical challenges and delays in cargo handling. Furthermore, late preparation of cargo in the warehouse can affect the overall schedule.

In the case of mail, similar issues can arise, including oversale, packing problems, late positioning, and late acceptance.

Efficient cargo and mail handling processes are essential to mitigate these delays and ensure the smooth flow of goods and correspondence within the aviation industry.

3. Aircraft and Ramp Handling

Delays in aviation operations can be a frustrating experience for both passengers and airline staff alike. Among the myriad of factors contributing to these delays, several fall under Aircraft and ramp handling, also known as delay code 3, encompassing a wide range of issues.

These issues can range from administrative setbacks like late or inaccurate aircraft documentation, including weight and balance calculations, general declarations, and passenger manifests, to logistical challenges such as loading and unloading delays.

Especially when dealing with bulky or special cargo loads, cabin load management, and insufficient loading staff.

Technical glitches can also disrupt the smooth flow of operations, whether it’s the lack of essential loading equipment like container pallet loaders, servicing equipment like steps, or breakdowns in these critical tools.

Additionally, delays can be caused by external service providers, such as fuel suppliers and caterers, whose tardiness in delivery or loading can ripple through the entire operation.

Even essential ground support equipment, like ULDs (Unit Load Devices), containers, and pallets, can become a source of delay when they are lacking or malfunctioning.

Lastly, technical equipment failures, such as pushback tugs, can hinder the aircraft’s movement on the ground, adding to the list of delays.

Addressing these multifaceted challenges requires meticulous planning, proactive maintenance, and effective coordination among all in the aviation industry.

4. Technical Delay

Technical delays in aviation can be a source of frustration for passengers and airlines alike, often falling under delay code 4 which encompasses various technical snags.

Aircraft defects can necessitate unplanned maintenance, causing delays, while scheduled maintenance can run late due to unforeseen complications, resulting in a delayed aircraft release.

Non-scheduled maintenance, involving special checks or additional work beyond routine maintenance, can also extend turnaround times.

Shortages or breakdowns in spares and maintenance equipment can compound these issues, as can the need to transport critical AOG (aircraft on ground) spares to another station.

Aircraft changes for technical reasons may become necessary, and a lack of planned standby aircraft for such situations can lead to extended delays.

Even cabin configuration and version adjustments can contribute to technical delays, highlighting the complexity of managing aircraft operations in the face of various technical challenges.

5. Damage/Failure

Delays in aviation can stem from various sources, and delay code 5 encompasses issues related to aircraft damage and automated equipment failures.

Damage incurred during flight operations, such as bird or lightning strikes, turbulence, or heavy landings, can necessitate inspections and repairs, leading to delays.

Similarly, damage during ground operations, like collisions, loading and unloading mishaps, contamination, or extreme weather conditions, can disrupt the aircraft’s schedule.

Automated systems play a critical role in aviation, but when they malfunction, delays can ensue.

Problems with the departure control system, check-in, weight and balance calculations, computer errors in baggage sorting, gate-reader issues, or problems in cargo preparation and documentation systems can all cause delays in various phases of the flight process.

Flight plans and other computer systems are also susceptible to glitches that can affect flight schedules. Effective troubleshooting and backup procedures are essential to minimize the impact of these technical challenges on aviation operations and passenger satisfaction.

6. Operation and Crew Delay

Delays in aviation can also be attributed to operational and crew-related issues, covered by delay code 6. Delays may arise due to late completion or changes in flight documentation, impacting the flight plan and scheduling.

Operational requirements, such as last-minute fuel adjustments or load alterations, can also disrupt the flight timeline. Crew-related challenges can compound these issues. Delays may occur if crew members board late or experience delays in departure procedures.

Shortages of flight deck crew or cabin crew, sometimes due to mandatory crew rest requirements, can result in scheduling setbacks.

Special requests or errors by crew members, whether on the flight deck or cabin, can also lead to delays not initially factored into operational plans.

Additionally, extraordinary situations, like a captain’s request for an unexpected security check, can further extend the delay. Ensuring efficient coordination between operations and crew members is crucial for minimizing these delays and maintaining the punctuality of flights.

7. Airlines Overbooking Flights

Overbooking by airlines is the most common cause of flight delays. In the airline industry, overbooking flights is considered a reasonable practice. When it’s difficult to predict no-shows, they pad their numbers a bit.

However, this strategy doesn’t always work out. When there is no room on the plane for all passengers, those with short-notice bookings get the boot. That’s why booking as early as possible is key if you want first dibs on your flight.

Additionally, besides booking in advance, you can take precautions to ensure you won’t face the risk of being removed from an already overbooked flight.

Two things will help

1. Use an Airline’s Pre-check:

Airlines may avoid bumping customers who have pre-checked in online or checked in at curbside check-in services at least 24 hours before departure time.

2. Check-in at the Airport Early:

Generally, airlines try not to bump passengers who have checked in close to their boarding time. Be aware of these strategies and preemptively take measures against them so that you won’t be subject to a delay due to an airline overbooking its flights!

In Conclusion

Being prepared in advance is the best practice for avoiding flight delays.

No one likes being stuck at the airport for a delayed or canceled flight. Being prepared ahead of your flight is one way to fight the frustration of a delayed flight.

While you can’t prevent all delays, taking proactive steps to limit your risk can help you save time and stress during your travel experience.

With the right precautions and knowledge about weather and airport operations, you can prepare for the potential challenges and reduce the time you spend waiting in the terminal.

Come prepared with supplies. Pack an extra phone charger, snacks, and drinks if your flight is delayed past the meal service scheduled for that plane.

Bring some entertainment, such as books or magazines, that can help keep you occupied while you wait. And please keep in mind your headphones—the sounds of aircraft taking off and landing can be distracting!

Delays are unavoidable sometimes, so it’s important to accept that things don’t always go as planned. Follow these best practices for avoiding flight delays—you never know when they might be useful!

So, stay informed, pack your patience, and enjoy your flight!

Pramod Ram

Pramod Ram

Digital Marketing Strategist

Pramod Ram heads the Online Marketing and Content Marketing Team at Claim Flights GmbH. He loves to travel, read books, watch movies and do intensive research.

If your flight delays for more than 3 hours, or was canceled, you may be eligible for compensation up to €600 based on EU 261 rule.

Check For Free

We offer "No Win - No Fee" Services, so claiming is Risk-Free!

We help in many languages – ClaimFlights International Websites