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Blog Feature

By: Joanna Medina

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October 25th, 2016

9 Biggest Causes of Flight Delays or Cancellations

Flight Delays and Cancellations

Flight Delays or CancellationsIn an ideal world, your travel scenario would go something like this: you show up at the airport, you check in and get your boarding passes, you get through security, you board your plane, and you take off. If you’re an occasional traveler, perhaps every one of your flights has followed this pattern. But what happens when it doesn’t? 

There are certain events entirely beyond your control which could impact your flight. When flight delays and cancellations occur at airports, they are usually due to one of the nine following reasons. Here’s a look at why these events affect your flight, and what you should do if they happen to you.



When standing at the back of a serpentine line weaving all over the security area, most travelers have one thought on their minds: Will this cause me to miss my flight? Certain events such as holidays can increase the number of people in the security line, but other times these backups can happen for seemingly no reason. While security staff often directs people over to shorter lines when their flights are about to depart, sometimes the airport is simply overwhelmed. It’s a coin toss as to whether or not the airline will hold the flight for passengers stuck in security, which affects not only the travelers in line, but also the ones on the plane waiting to taxi to the runway.


Winter storms, lightning storms and strong winds will keep planes on the ground for the safety of everyone involved. It is always recommended that passengers check the status of their flights before heading to the airport, especially if you know that there is a storm on the way. Airlines can’t be held responsible for delays or cancellations due to inclement weather, but once the storms clear out they will often reschedule you onto the next available flight at no extra charge. In the case of extreme delays or mass cancellations, most airlines will typically offer refunds to their customers.

National Aviation System

The National Aviation System (NAS) is a broad term which encompasses many different factors that might impact flight times. This might include non-severe weather events, heavy air traffic, air traffic control delays, and airport operations. These reasons may sound vague, but they account for nearly 25% of all airport delays or cancellations. If your flight is affected due to general airport conditions, and therefore through no fault of your own, you may have some recourse.

Late Arriving Aircraft

Planes are put into heavy rotation. Usually, the plane that took passengers from Chicago to LA will be refueled, checked, and turned around a few hours later to take passengers on the return route. Of course, if a flight is significantly delayed, it can end up affecting passengers at other airports who were scheduled to take the same aircraft to their destination. This is how a blizzard in Boston can wind up causing travel headaches in Dallas. Passengers who missed their connections should be compensated by the airline, and switched to new flights.


It can take up to 2 hours to refuel a jet, especially the large craft meant for long-haul or trans-oceanic flights. If there are issues getting your plane properly fueled in a timely manner, this could cause a significant delay. The issue with this type of delay is that you often won’t know about it until you get to the airport. If something like this happens, it is important to know your rights as a traveler.

Congestion in Air Traffic

Over 80,000 flights crisscross the US every day. That may seem like a huge number, but air traffic control towers are equipped to handle it all. Issues begin to arise when air traffic is particularly heavy due to a holiday or other event, and flights may be delayed. If you know you are traveling on a particularly busy day, be sure to check your flight status several times leading up to your departure for the airport.

Maintenance Issues

If it is discovered that there is a maintenance issue with your aircraft, the flight will not embark until the issue has been fully addressed. Sometimes, these issues are being worked on even as passengers board the plane, meaning the delay you experience might take place entirely on the tarmac. Other times, in the case of larger issues, your airline might make the call to switch planes entirely for the safety of everyone involved.

Baggage Loading

Long lines at check-in might mean that there is baggage being loaded onto your plane right up until the last possible minute. These delays are aggravating, but ideally, they are meant to ensure that everyone’s luggage makes it to their destination with them. If you’ve ever made it to your destination with your carry on and nothing else, then you already know this isn’t always the case.

Computer Glitches

Even a relatively small computer hiccup can cause massive delays and cancellations all across the globe. You may have read about the recent outages with companies like Delta or United Continental, each of which affected thousands of passengers in all different locations. No matter where you are traveling to or from, if your flight is affected by a computer issue on the airline’s end, you should be compensated. Travelers should have the option of getting a refund, or changing flights.

Many passengers feel a lot of anxiety about their flights, and that’s completely understandable. Thousands of people are trying to make connecting flights, reach family and friends, or attend important meetings every single day. A cancellation or delay could have a huge negative impact on their travel. The good news is that there is often something you can do about it. To find out more about European flight delay and cancellation compensation, read here.


flight cancelled or delayed

About Joanna Medina

Born and raised in San Diego, California. I am a writer, dreamer, traveler and all around Truth seeker. I have a passion and desire to help others and truly enjoy seeing people thrive. I have been partnering with Flightbucks since January, 2016 to educate travelers about their rights and have the added perk of sharing travel insights through our blog.