How I Predicted A Delay Before The Pilot

Fog in London is Not Unusual

I love travel, and my frequent flyer status suggests that I fly way too often. I love flying, I love planes, but I hate delays – they ruin the, “hero’s journey,” feeling that many people experience when they travel . Recently I was traveling from Tel Aviv to Newark, New Jersey, with a 65 minute layover in London Heathrow, a little risky, but plenty of time for a seasoned traveler to make it to the next flight with time for a coffee at the gate.

As is common for London in Fall/Autumn, there was fog over the city and reduced visibility for planes.

Zenner’s Prediction: Delay of 1 – 3 hours

Using Zenner’s algorithm to analyze the flight, I had already concluded that my flight is at high risk to be delayed and that my connection may be missed.

Factors which contributed to this assessment:

  • The same weather conditions the previous day had delayed the same flight by 2 hours.
  • The METAR (Meteorological Terminal Aviation Routine Weather Report) was showing a high likelihood of adverse weather at Heathrow.
  • Tel Aviv is just under the 2000 nautical mile limit which is often used for deciding if a plane should be delayed before takeoff.
  • Assuming that the pilot wouldn’t be able to recover more than 30 minutes of lost time in the air, the minimum delay was likely to be over an hour.

Talking to the Pilot and Crew

My flight had already boarded all passengers, and we were waiting for takeoff. Prediction in hand, I asked the crew onboard if they could confirm the delay (airport signage and British Airways application still said: On-Time). The crew and pilot weren’t aware of an issue.

… until 30 seconds later, when Heathrow issued a ground stop, the pilot made the announcement that takeoff was being delayed by 1 hour and 50 minutes, and my British Airways app started making noise.

We’d land in London at least 30 minutes after the Newark flight had already departed.

Following the announcement, the pilot was kind enough to invite me into the cockpit for a conversation around weather predictions, missed flights, and the best way to recover lost time.

A copy of the weather report from the plane’s printer, you can decode the abbreviations here.

If only they had Zenner!

With my connection all but missed, Zenner was already in action. Funds were available on my Zenner VIP Card, and Zenner was holding a seat for me on a United flight leaving an hour after the new landing time.

That said, all’s well that ends well. The pilot, impressed by the prediction, and enjoying the pre-flight conversation, pulled some strings upon landing at Heathrow. I was the only one out of 36 disrupted travelers, to make the connection. Luckily, I didn’t need to use the alternative flight reserved by Zenner, but the other 35 travelers, who now had their trip to NY disrupted, probably wish they had it!