Top 10 Reasons for Flight Delays

If you’ve entered an aircraft more than once or twice in your life, you will probably have experienced delays of different lengths. Every time you wonder: why me? And why did it happen exactly now? Well, it’s not that the flight crew or the loading crew are dragging their feet. See the real reasons, at least statistically – here are the Top-10.

  • Poor Weather Conditions

1. Poor Weather Conditions

It’s called force majeure for a good reason: You can’t do anything about it. There are some airports that are more disadvantaged than others by geography, being built in a potentially bad weather area with a lot of snow or mist. But it’s not only thunderstorm or black ice. Sometimes an arrival is delayed because the aircraft is forced to pull up or touch-and-go through shear winds during the landing process – it’s all just weather.

2. No-show Passengers

Every passenger wants to depart and arrive on time, right? But sometimes, it’s the dear fellow travelers who upset the thoughtful planning. They get stuck in the middle of the airport in some restaurant or gift shop, forget about time. Then the airline needs to find and unload the baggage, which is a safety requirement all over the world. And it happens more often than you think.

3. Flight Crew Rest Requirements

Like all employees, the pilots and the cabin crew need to keep their strict regulations of working time. If they exceed it because their own flight is late for whatever reason, they need to stay on the ground instead of entering the connecting flight. It’s a classic example of a ripple effect, showing how flight delays can lead to more flight delays subsequently.

4. Technical Problems

The history of technical problems and failures is as long as the history of aviation. Thankfully, almost all technical issues nowadays are discovered beforehand. Safety first, they say justifiably: the aircraft won’t depart until everything is perfectly fixed and documented. Actually, we need to be grateful for these safety regulations. But are we? Judge yourself …

5. Air Traffic Restrictions

It’s getting crowded in the skies. The air traffic has increased vastly in will so in the future, no need to dive into this topic further. Around the world’s busiest airspaces like Atlanta, Dubai, Shanghai or London, a lot of restrictions and regulations are required to handle the ever-growing number of arrivals and departures. This includes a lot of uncalculated extra workload, with airlines often changing their routes last minute due to weather and jet streams.

6. Boarding Passengers

Being at the boarding gate, we’ve got our ticket with a reserved seat, right? Still, many seem to be eager to be the first in line. On the opposite, others prefer to board last. Of course, the airlines have metrics by aircraft type and destination as to how long it takes to board a flight. The boarding system assumes that people enter the plane as planned and announced, but all too often, it doesn’t happen.

7. Airport Security Lines

Admittedly, security accounts only for a low percentage: in May 2019, it was 0.03% of delay minutes for U.S. airlines. But when it happens, it often happens big time. Security reasons range from an evacuation of a terminal or concourse, reboarding of aircraft because of security breach, inoperative screening equipment or long lines at screening areas in excess of 29 min.

8. Computer Glitches

Our daily life is largely dependent of processing power and the correct execution of algorithms, no question about it. This holds particularly true for the aviation business. If the central computer systems of an airport have a hiccup, it can cause massive delays and cancellations. Any glitches before the takeoff will lead to a delay as the crew attempts to figure it out. Not surprising at all, since safety is the most important thing for all airlines.

9. Weight restriction – every ounce counts

Each aircraft is designed to carry a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW). Sometimes on long-haul flights, some aircraft types even must stay a certain amount below this weight because otherwise, the fuel would not be sufficient to make it to the point of destination. Every ounce counts. As soon as the maximum weight is exceeded, the captain will give order to unload baggage. An unplanned extra step that will cause a delay.

10. Catering

Chicken, porc or veggie? To provide all passengers with a sufficient meal selection on the flight, the catering trucks need to do their tours over the apron regularly. However sometimes they are delayed themselves, misguided or even loaded with wrong or too few meals – it happens every now and then.

Infographic: Top 10 Reasons for Flight Delays


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