Surprising Causes of Flight Cancelations and Delays

At Zenner we’re always trying to empower travelers to outsmart flight delays and cancellations. That’s why we’re tracking hundreds of factors (and millions of data points) which can go wrong. Here are some of our more surprising things that will try to ruin your next trip.

1. The airport is too cold

During Winter months, it’s common for planes to need de-icing before they can depart. This is a lengthy procedure to clean any ice from the aircraft as well as add a coating to try and prevent new ice from forming. Ice on any part of the plane can be devastatingly dangerous.

Although the procedure often takes only a few minutes, many airports have a limited number of de-icing machines, and planes can be made to wait for up to an hour just to start the process.

Deicing a plane wing

2. The airport is too hot

For safety reasons, planes have restrictions on the maximum temperature under which they can take off. A few years ago, Phoenix (PHX) had to cancel all American Eagle flights on a day where the weather exceeded 120 F (49 C).

A not-inconceivable heatwave of 130 F (54 C) would prevent many major jets from being able to take-off.

3. There aren’t enough air traffic controllers

If you look at the official reasons for aircraft delay, the #1 problem is regularly cited as a lack of available air-traffic controllers which is sometimes a problem of government funding, sometimes it’s caused by strikes, and sometimes it’s just caused by a lack of people interested in these careers.

If you look at a map of the space between your departure and arrival airports, the distance can be divided into a grid, where different organizations are responsible for monitoring and keeping everyone safe in that airspace. Less controllers for any grid reference, and planes are required to fly a “scenic-route” to avoid that area, or slow down, so they only enter that airspace after another plane has left it.

This can also slow down the speed at which planes are permitted to take off and land.

fir airspace map
Flight Information Regions (FIR) Map

4. Your crew is about to run out of hours

By law, flight crew can only work a certain number of hours without a break. For example, a pilot can only work for 14 hours out of a 24 hour day, and must receive a minimum of 10 hours rest before returning to duty. This is one of the key reasons why flight crew are so concerned about departing on time, because if there’s no way the plane will be able to get to its destination before the crew runs out of hours, the plane will not have permission to take off, or it will need to stop somewhere to change over the crew.

This is a key problem with some airlines in Europe and the US where the same crew work several flights and a delay early in the day can lead the airline eventually to cancel one of the flights in the sequence to get everyone to their home base again before they run out of hours.

5. Coffee! ☕

Did you know that if the coffee pot malfunctions, the entire plane’s electronics need to be inspected? It’s a surprisingly common cause for delays, also if you spill coffee on your seat, it takes longer to prepare the plane for the next flight as some airlines will actually replace the entire cushion.

In September a pilot drank coffee without a lid and spilled some coffee on the controls, leading to an emergency landing in order to check the aircraft.

6. The military needs to borrow your airspace

In recent months a number of military training exercises have caused airspace closures. Planes are either kept on the ground, sometimes for over an hour, until the flight path is clear, or they’re asked to take a longer route to stay clear of the activity.

In December, the Cypriot exercise dubbed, “Game of Thrones,” caused serious headaches for passengers leaving Amman, Tel Aviv, Larnaca and Athens who all found some of their possible take-off paths blocked by military jets.

Tracking all that – and more

Whilst we can’t predict the state of your coffeepot, we are tracking thousands of factors that allow us to respond quickly to the potential domino effect that any one problem might have on your next journey. Every flight we track and passenger we protect improve our technology to become smarter about how to we keep everyone getting to where they need to be.

That includes sources beyond the obvious aircraft location and weather forecast, such as road traffic around the airport, current wait times at passport control and security, and other ground factors which can delay your crew even getting to the plane.

We love talking about all things aviation related, contact us with your flight delay stories!