How do weather delays improve safety when flying?

Weather delays can be extremely frustrating when you are trying to get somewhere. Likewise, passengers with a fear of flying may feel a bit anxious about traveling to an airport or region that is experiencing storms (read “What causes turbulence?”). Fortunately, there is nothing to worry about, as all modern airliners can operate safely in pretty much any kind of weather (read “Have you ever flown through a hurricane?”). Flights are routed around weather mainly for passenger comfort. So, that being said, how in the world can a delay caused by weather be a good thing?

In short, the delay is increasing the safety of your flight by reducing the chances that you will have to enter a holding pattern or be diverted to an airport other than your destination. Many years ago, if there was a storm near a city, Air Traffic Control (ATC) and the airlines made no effort to restrict the number of flights headed to that particular airport. All the planes flying to that city simply took off at will and flew in that direction. As the planes neared that airport or surrounding areas, the “airways” became flooded with more planes and traffic than they could handle. This meant that some of the planes were forced to hold until the airways had an opening (all airline flights are required by law to have a certain minimum amount of extra fuel onboard for these situations). Sometimes, there were so many planes that there was simply no way to accommodate all of them. After holding for several minutes or several hours, some planes were then forced to divert to alternate airports. The pilots would do this to get additional fuel or wait for the airways to open back up after the storm had passed. This meant that a bad storm could delay your flight for many hours or maybe even an entire day (if your flight was diverted to another airport and subsequently cancelled).

Nowadays, it makes much more sense to hold a given flight on the ground until it is assured an arrival and landing slot at its destination. While this tactic still causes a delay, it is usually much shorter than if every plane was trying to fly to an airport at the same time. In the mean while you simply wait on the ground for an ATC clearance. More importantly, this means that when you do takeoff, the airspace around your destination will have room for your flight. This reduces or eliminates the time that your flight may spend in a holding pattern and all but guarantees that you will land at your destination instead of diverting.

Ultimately, the current weather delay system reduces uncertainty and shortens the overall delay. That way, you spend the delay sitting on the ground (either in the airport or in the plane). I think most people would agree that this sounds much better than being delayed in a holding pattern at 30,000 feet and hoping that your flight will make it to your destination without being diverted. In this instance, like all others associated with air travel, the primary emphasis is always on safety and reducing risk for each and every flight.

-How do weather delays improve safety when flying?-

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One Response to How do weather delays improve safety when flying?

  1. Pingback: How does weather cause delays? | Scared Flightless

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