5 Things Airlines Don't Want You To Know About Weather Delays

When an airplane is delayed due to the weather, they get out of a lot of obligations, and there’s little oversight over what they get to call a weather-related delay. Elliot.org interviewed industry experts and came up with five interesting things the industry is keeping from you about weather delays…

1. If there is a hint of bad weather anywhere, that will be used as the excuse
2 .Weather is considered an “Act of God” and it basically means the carrier owes passengers nothing.
3. When an airline says a flight is affected by weather we have to take it at its word.
4.’Our definition of a weather delay is absurdly loose.
5. ‘We’re even confused by the way we report weather delays.

Hit the link to find out how each of these breaks down.
5 things airlines won’t tell you about weather delays [Elliot.org]
(Photo: beija)


Edit Your Comment

  1. noi56u says:

    Love the reference to the iPhone/pilot ad in the link… especially because that doesn’t work in real life. Was flying Southwest from Pitt to Chicago Midway last night and got delayed 3 hrs because “visibility is .25 miles, less than the legal amount needed to land.”

    I had my iPod touch and was constantly checking weather.com and noaa.gov during the delay, visibility at Midway never dipped below 2.0 miles. When I pointed this out to the gate agent, she said she couldn’t do anything about it and wouldn’t ask the air controllers to recheck the weather.

  2. AD8BC says:

    I fly alot. I don’t have a problem with airlines not covering you in case of obvious bad weather. I don’t feel that they should pay a dime if a snowstorm or bad thunderstorm or a tornado leveling an airport. I will be rebooked as soon as they can, and as soon as air traffic control will allow them to schedule a flight. And this should apply if the inbound plane is late ue to weather, or if the crew is delayed inbound due to weather.

    That being said, being a platinum frequent flier, the airlines mostly will put me up for a night anyway. It doesn’t really matter, if they don’t I’ll get a room anyway and expense it to my employer.

  3. gilamon says:

    I fly 3 or 4 times a month and I’d say 50% of the time that an airline tells me it’s a weather delay it’s a flat out lie.
    You’re probably asking how I can be so sure. I know for sure because I go to the FAA flight status page [www.fly.faa.gov] for info. This is the official FAA site that lists the current DETAILED status of every airport in the US and I have it bookmarked on my phone.

    So when AA tells me my flight from Toronto to Dallas is canceled because the DFW is closed. I go to the site and innocently ask the airline staff “Hmmm… the FAA seems to think the airport is open” and slide the phone over to them. Funny how fast they change their story about rerouting me or getting me a room.

  4. CurbRunner says:

    Wouldn’t it have made more sense for airlines to have made their major transfer hubs at locations that aren’t so often affected by bad weather?
    O’Hare, at Chicago is a prime example of a place that you know is gonna get bad on a pretty regular basis. It’s not like there aren’t weather records available to locate areas that are the least affected by weather problems.

  5. trujunglist says:

    I would think that major transfer hubs need to be… hubs. It’d be great if Arizona was a central location, wouldn’t it? No weather delays there. Unfortunately, that area of the country has crappy weather and the major city happens to be next to a giant, crappy weather producing lake.

  6. matt says:

    Somebody better tell Richard Dawkins that the airlines have found god.

  7. neithernor says:

    Ben, you forgot

    6. At any given moment, some place is having bad weather.

  8. pastabatman says:

    ok. you win?

  9. AD8BC says:

    @pastabatman: Hey, I didn’t say it was right. But I’ll take advantage of it when I can. :-)

  10. Oshawapilot says:

    As a pilot, I’ll suggest that it’s a slippery slope when consumers try to interpret, or question the decisions that pilots make when it comes to weather.

    Although it may appear to a passenger that the weather at the destination is “just fine”, what about the alternate? Is there weather between A and B that you are simply not seeing? Do you know what the freezing levels or windspeeds aloft are that could cause heavy fuel burn and shorten range?

    Any one of these situations can classify as a “weather” issue, yet the average passenger has abolutely zero clue about it from their perspective.

    Good weather at point A and B doesn’t necessarilly mean that the flight can go ahead as planned.

    Don’t get me wrong, I know that airlines sometimes use it as a catch-all excuse, but on the flipside, the average consumer has absolutely zero idea about 99% of what’s involved in flightplanning, and as such, should carefully temper their comments when it comes to such.

  11. Nitekite says:

    Even when the airline admits the delay is not weather related, I don’t bother trying to get anything out of them anymore. I’ve had terrible experiences with it in the past: in the best cases, I had to wait in long lines to get put up in a (usually very sketchy) hotel. In the worst case, I had to sleep on a cot in the rec room of an overbooked hotel I was sent to at 3 a.m. You might save a little money standing in line, but I don’t think the time and frustration is worth it. Now I try to choose flights with layovers in cities where I’m likely to get a decent hotel at a reasonable price.

  12. majortom1981 says:

    yes but oshawapilot what about what gilamon posted about the faa website?

  13. DeltaPurser says:

    @oshawapilot: Well said, my friend… People often forget that even though the weather is fine in A and B, the aircraft may be coming from C (or have gone thru C earlier in the day) which is snowed in or shut down, and as a result is delayed…

  14. Oshawapilot says:

    @majortom1981: It’s possible that this was either a bunch of hot air on behalf of the airline (as I said, it does happen) or it could be that the frontline people at the ticket desks are simply uninformed.

    Remember, the people at the ticket kiosks and information booths are also not pilots. When they state that an airport is closed and the flight can’t go ahead because of it, it could be the only viable *alternate* airport that is actually closed, not the actual destination airport itself.

    Since an alternate airport is a legal requirement for IFR flight, if the alternate is closed, and there’s no other reasonable choice within calculated acceptable distances (taking into consideration fuel burn/capacities, runway lengths, airport equipment, etc etc etc) then the flight gets cancelled. The airline employee at the desk who makes the announcement might simply say “the airport is closed” without elaborating.

    The employee probably has a limited amount of information or aviation knowledge to work with themselves, and may not understand the decision process or realities behind the decision either. No matter what they say, passengers are going to be upset anyways, so they probably word it in the most simplistic method possible and then prepare for the heat.

    The consumer automatically gets their back up because they don’t don’t see a valid reason for the cancellation. They also probably don’t fully understand the decision making process used, but look only at the simplistic “A to B” situation. They don’t understand enroute weather problems, airport and aircraft minima, fuel loads, fuel burn rates, headwind calculations, or anything else – they only understand that “My sister just called from our destination and says the weather is great! What’s the problem?”.

    Sometimes only the pilots know the real reason, and I don’t think it should be their jobs to have to justify their decisions to the passengers. Trust me, if a pilot doesn’t want to make a flight due to a weather or safety related decision, you most certainly don’t want to either.

  15. mammalpants says:

    i need some proof of this “god” they are referring to. do they have any sort of receipt or anything?

  16. Trick says:

    All I know that I no longer suffer from flight delays. You see, I bought an Apple iPhone and whenever the uppity pilot tells us there will be a flight delay, I pull out my iPhone!

    I pull up the current weather map, go to the cockpit and show the pilot how the weather is clear at our destination.

    You would be surprised how many times these pilots scream “let’s blow this popcorn stand” and we take off immediately..



    Get it and get there on time!

  17. dancing_bear says:

    So you’re flying from Akron/Canton to O’hare on a puny airplane. Other bigger airplanes are flying to O’hare too (from more spectacular locations, to boot).

    The airline cancels your puny flight, to save the others, because less revenue is put at risk. You get to spend the night in Akron (or worse, Canton). The airline made the decision, blaming it on the weather.

    You get the pressurized aluminum stiffy. But surprisingly, it does not feel so good.

  18. bobfederal says:

    I was on a flight from Long Beach to Phoenix one evening. That’s a one hour flight. We were diverted to Yuma for fuel when it was determined we could not land immediately in high winds. 30 minutes later the pilots told us they were 5 minutes over their flight time with passengers and we had to deplane but another plan was on its way to pick us up. We waited 3 hours at the airport to learn the next flight was at 6 am the next morning.
    Because this was a ‘weather’ delay (not having enough fuel to circle the airport for 10 minutes), we were on our own for rooms and meals.
    Yuma had closed up for the night, no cars to rent, nothing. I was lucky and paid for a hotel room but others slept at the airport on the floor.
    Here’s the kicker. I ended up renting a car the next day because they were not going to fly us out until 3 that afternoon. When I tried to fly back from Phoenix to Long Beach I was told my tickets had been canceled because I was never on the original flight.
    Oh, and I complained in writing, with absolutely no response.
    I understand weather delays and agree with them, but this was not a weather delay, it was a fule oversight. I fly over 100,000 mile a year and do all I can to avoid America West/US Air now

  19. therethinker says:

    gilamon’s link, however, shows conditions from flying to airport-to-airport. For instance, for BOS right now, it says that flights to ORD are delayed until at least 9:00.

    Is this a reference that I, as well as the public at large, can use and be correct (to a degree)?

  20. CharlieSeattle says:

    @oshawapilot: Actually the article does bring up the weather between point a and b.

  21. Oshawapilot says:

    That’s a (greatly) consumer oriented portion of the FAA website that simply shows generalized delays, and not weather or forecast specific issues.

    Again, there’s so many variables that most consumers simply don’t understand (not only weather, but legal and aircraft/equipment limitations) that trying to explain it all to “Joe Consumer” after it all lines up to cause a delay isn’t practical.

    An airline pilot could come out to address the passengers and start spewing forth all sorts of technical jargon to the passengers. “The weather is currently within minima at our primary but was forecasted at 2200 zulu to fall to near minima . Our alternate is currently socked in but the TAF’s indicate that it should be within approach minima by the time of our arrival. Additionally we noticed several PIREP’s that the actual conditions aloft were different the the TAF’s suggested indicating that we would have a higher rate of fuel consumption. This would not allow sufficient range at forecasted fuel burn rates to reach our legal alternate airport. Since we are at our MGTOW with our current passenger , cargo, and fuel load we are unable to add additional endurance, so we have had no option but to cancel the flight”.

    A pilot hears “A whole bunch of crap lined up to make the flight impossible”.

    The passenger hears gobleygook, and gets upset because they look out the window and see bright clear skies, and it’s clear the pilots just wasted their time and effort for the most part since the passengers get upset anyways.

    Being a pilot makes you part meteorologist (It’s a large part of the training), since you need to understand the weather in order to share the skies with it.

    The understanding of meteorology from a laypersons standpoint is limited to looking skyward and observing if the clouds are black or white, and if it’s sunny or raining.

    I’m not trying to be elitist or condescending here by any means, I’m just explaining realities.

  22. Ace in the Hole says:

    Ya know what pilots, you can kiss my ass. You guys come off really condescending and tell ya what — I got no patience for that bunk.

    Yep, I’m raising the bullshit flag on this one. An overwhelming majority of passengers are fed up with the airline industry; it’s hard to argue down or belittle their experiences. Pretty much everyone involved with the airline industry in America stinks to high heaven. The attendants are rude, people are treated like riff-raff and stuffed into steerage class seating, prices are getting more and more expensive each year, the pilots won’t inform the passengers of what’s going on …. and yes Mr. N/A posted right above me … believe it or not “Joe Consumer” would appreciate being told about minima and any other bs jargon you think you own the rights to. We consumers are actually rather savvy, well educated and quick learners.

    If the airline industry didn’t have it’s lobbying groups giving so much payola to the feds, we’d be seeing some serious shakeups in the industry. Imagine a magneto-rail system that rivaled Japan running from coast to coast … probably fix that pilot shortage pretty quick, maybe give the industry a bit of an attitude adjustment.

    I don’t know how the couple of self-professed airline industry experts on this thread can claim there is so much more than meets the eyes when a consumer can be told point blank that no planes are taking off, and then turn around, look out the window and watch them flying off the runway. And the whole excuse about the weather in-between and the gas …. bah …. pilots are flying above the weather anyway. I’d hazard a guess to say that the experts in this thread are just a couple of ham-radio operators gone puddle-jumping pilots as another hobby. Or best, the most the career will amount to is an awesome pilot training program in Florida and an exciting career piloting an air-taxi from a rural airport into the city.

    I have zero patience for you folks. What the airlines need is a serious introduction to professionalism and the cost of doing business in a free market … but that won’t happen until our government stops bailing you jerks out of bankruptcy every five years.

  23. Oshawapilot says:

    @Ace in the Hole:

    “pilots are flying above the weather anyway”

    Sometimes, but you still need to get up there, and back down, in the meantime. You forgot about that.

    Pilots would prefer not to die because people like you don’t understand the realities of flight and simply demand that the planes leave the gate no matter what.

    There might be plenty of rude and incresingly short tempered people involved in the aviation industry, but it’s frequently rude, short tempered and oft demanding consumers that make them that way. Ask anyone who works on the front line with consumers in a stressed environment (not just aviation, but anywhere) and you’ll find that the employee often will report that consumers can be rude, crude, and often complete idiots.

    If you deal with that sort of thing day in and day out, I can’t say that I’d blame anyone for becoming short tempered after a while.

    Is it an excuse? No. Reality? You decide.

    I’ve been aboard aircraft with less then great crews. I’ve also been aboard aircraft with passengers who act like children.

    I’ve been aboard aircraft with childish and rude passengers, yet a great flight crew who takes it all in stride and just smiles and takes it. These are the gems.

    All that aside, I’d rather the pilots and crew remain professional (even if *you* feel that this makes them “rude”) and get the passengers from A to B safely as opposed to throwing all caution to the wind in the name of “customer satisfaction” and end up in an accident.

  24. gilamon says:


    It’s funny how a lot of pilots hide behind the complexity of their jobs and their jargon. Look I understand that it’s a complicated job, but I really hate it when pilots act like everyone is too stupid to understand what they have to deal with.

    I work in the semiconductor industry. I guarantee we have jargon and processes more complicated and esoteric than yours, but you know what we don’t hide behind it. If a customer asks us about something we make an effort to explain it to them.

    Would it really kill the airlines if you at least tried to explain the problem or do you have so little faith in your ground employees that you don’t even try (BTW if your ground personnel can’t properly explain issues or don’t have a good knowledge of aviation that’s not an excuse that’s a problem. Fix it!)

  25. Ace in the Hole says:

    You’re right Gilamon, and as far as this thread shows, and numerous others that come up on Google for “flight-delay airline weather” … there is just utter contempt from pilots and airline insiders towards the people that pay them.

    Yah, I have high standards. I don’t like being lied to; I don’t like being treated like a fool; and I really don’t like being taken advantage of. Odds are, other consumers feel the same way … probably why we all hear so much about a passengers’ bill of rights these days.

    Gilamon brings up an excellent point, and since the professionalism of the industry is in question right now, perhaps the best act of responsibility would be for the pilot to come out of the cabin, or into the terminal and explain exactly why the weather is causing problems.

    Stop passing the buck, take responsibility.

  26. jamar0303 says:

    @Ace in the Hole: YES. America needs a decent rail system to compete with the airlines. Why are the Japanese airlines so wonderful service-wise compared to the American ones? They have a decent super-express rail system to compete against.

  27. Jesse in Japan says:

    @jamar0303: Japanese airlines are also really, really expensive. Though, to be fair, so are the super-express trains. Transportation in Japan in general is pretty damned expensive is what I’m trying to get at here.

  28. Oshawapilot says:


    “I work in the semiconductor industry. I guarantee we have jargon and processes more complicated and esoteric than yours, but you know what we don’t hide behind it. If a customer asks us about something we make an effort to explain it to them.”

    And I know nothing about semiconductors, but I don’t yell at you if you tell me that you can’t put part A onto board B without it exploding. Even if that website I Googled 10 minutes before hand (Which I probably understood little to nothing of except that the same two part numbers, for example, were shown together) suggested to me that it was OK to do.

    See what I’m getting at?

    If a layperson tried to tell you how to do your job and threw inaccurate, incorrect, or simply wrong information in your face when you tried to tell them “I can’t do that”, you’d be upset too.

    Pilots rightfully get upset when passengers flip at the prospect of a cancellation that they simply don’t understand.

    Sure, they have the right to be dissapointed – I’d be too, but they have no right to run to the cockpit or yell at the flight crew because they pretend to be an armchair expert on the situation.

  29. Mariallena says:


    You fly commercial?

    What a loser!

  30. jamar0303 says:

    @Jesse in Japan: I’d like the option to pay more for decent service in America. Seriously, all the legacy airlines in the States have something wrong with them, and it always seems to have something to do with their effort to keep prices low to compete with the discount carriers. If they raised prices a little and kept service like you’d find on JAL or ANA I’d be happy paying more- and those that don’t need that kind of service still have carriers like Southwest and JetBlue available to them.

  31. sixseeds says:

    @Ace in the Hole: How are the pilots “passing the buck?” If the airline or the FAA tells them they can’t take the plane up, they can’t do it. Unless the passengers are already parked in the tin can, it’s not the pilots’ responsibility to explain the cancellation; it’s the airline’s. (My experience on this point is that 99% of pilots explain delays to passengers.) Don’t conflate the company’s responsibilities with the range of action available to its individual employees.

    I’m in no way affiliated with the airline industry, by the way.

  32. dcndn says:

    Oshawapilot and other pilots. I know there are lots of considerations that go in to making the decision of whether it’s safe to fly or not, but when you come to the decision that it’s not, JUST TELL US WHY. Don’t be an asshole and say the jargon’s too complicated; anyone with enough knowledge to make a competent decision should be able to translate the reasoning for it in plain English. We’re adults, we can take it. Nothing pisses off a customer more than being kept in the dark. We just want as much information as possible so we can make our own decisions based on reality, not some jive “it’s the weather” B.S.

  33. foxmajik says:

    It seems like you quoted an awful lot of the relevant data from this article, so I think this might qualify as plagiarism.