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Flight Delay Causes

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Causes of Flight Delays

You're ready to fly off to your destination, but suddenly the airport's flight information display breaks the news to you that your flight is delayed. Here we explore the different reasons why this at times happens, so you can better understand the situation.

There are three types of airport delays, which we'll dive into below in more detail; those caused by humans, those by machines, or delays caused by mother nature. Human factors include, aircraft turnarounds between flights, crew availability, air traffic controls, and passenger punctuality.

Delayed flight due to snow

Machine factors include aircraft mechanical or maintenance issues, which vary from delaying a flight for 15 minutes due to a blown indicator bulb in the cockpit, to an anomaly with one of the engines. 

Mother nature is a major cause of flight delays, and can range from thunderstorms at departure (common at airports such as Tampa TPA and Dallas Love Field) or arrival airports (such as Orlando (MCO)), flooding of runways, snow or ice (i.e. at Chicago Midway), or strong headwinds aloft.


This is probably the most obvious and is the most frequent cause for the delay in flights. There are three areas where weather affects the schedule of flights:

At the origin airport, weather can affect the arrival of the scheduled flight in many ways, such as a passing thunderstorm or snowstorm. Further, sometimes there is a need to de-ice the aircraft, which causes the delay in flights as the aircraft needs to taxi to a specific de-icing facility before being allowed to take-off.

These are normally temporary issues that have lingering effects on flight arrival as well as departure times. When the aircraft does not depart on-time, later-scheduled flights have to wait due to the backlog.

The spacing interval between the takeoffs of the flights is fixed and cannot be compressed. As a result, all of the flights that are scheduled to arrive from the airport with the weather problems will arrive late. And to further complicate things, the spacing of aircraft increases as the weather worsens.

flight weather delay

Air Traffic

There are many factors that can cause air traffic, all of which have a direct impact on both arrivals as well as the departure time of flights.

Air and ground congestion are a major factor why flights get delayed. If a scheduled flight pushes back from the gate late, that flight could impact the departure of other flights, such as the next flight scheduled to arrive at the gate occupied by the late flight departure.

Moreover, it causes disruptions in normal air traffic patterns. Flights that are arrived at the scheduled time might have to 'circle' around the airport area because of congestion.

Air traffic controllers have to hold some flights in a prescribed pattern before they are cleared to land. So, sometimes when you check on the status of the flight within 30 minutes of the scheduled arrival time, you may find a discrepancy. This is due to aircraft being placed in holding patterns around the airport may be reported as arrived, even though the flight is still in the air.

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A go-around is a situation when an aircraft is just about to land at an airport, but the pilot judges that it is not safe to land. In this case, the pilot initiates a go-around, which in reality means he will initiate a climb, and proceed to go back into the approach pattern to make another landing attempt - all guided by air traffic control.

As you can imagine, this affects the arrival time for that flight, as it takes almost 30 minutes for the aircraft to return and land again. It also has the same accordion effect on other aircraft, which can trigger delays.

mechanical flight delays

READ MORE: What to do if you miss that connecting flight

Mechanical Delays

Mechanical issues are, unfortunately, unforeseeable. Pilots always do a final check before the departure of the aircraft, but if they find anything wrong, they signal to the ground crew or maintenance station what the issue is. The airline then needs to decide to either fix the problem if the delay is not too long, or replace the aircraft to ensure your safety.  If a replacement aircraft cannot be found, then your flight might get canceled.

Performing maintenance on the plane requires some time, and as a result, there will be a delay in the departure of the flight. On the other side, mechanical delays also affect the arrival schedules too.

However, if the flight experiences a major mechanical problem in the air, it can be re-routed to another airport. So, it will also take much more time for passengers to reach their final destination.

Waiting for Connecting Passengers

Most of the time, the captain of the flight can inform the passengers who are on the flight that there may be some delay for the takeoff. It is due to the crew being instructed to wait for those who are coming from a different connecting flight.

Sometimes even the bags take a little longer time to get transferred from one plane to another. Ground authorities try their best to do their task on time, but sometimes they have to wait for more bags to get there from other flights.

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Waiting for Crew

You are surely aware of the fact that a flight cannot depart in the absence of pilots and flight attendants. So your flight can be delayed due to waiting for crew members arriving from another flight.

Normally large hubs have crews on standby. So, when a particular pilot is not available due to any reason before the departure, a colleague will take his place to serve your flight.

This practice can take some time; thus, there will be a delay in the departure of the flight.

READ MORE: From push-back to landing: Pilot details all aspects of a typical flight

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