How does weather cause delays when flying?

When you are traveling somewhere, being delayed can be extremely frustrating.  Have you ever been delayed due to weather, but a friend at the destination is telling you that the weather is perfectly fine?  Or, maybe later when you landed at your destination the weather was actually good?  This is a common occurrence.  So what happened?   Was the airline misleading you about the cause of the delay?  The answer is no, but the explanation is slightly more complex.

Weather can have a unique impact on air travel.  A storm doesn’t need to be directly over an airport to induce delays.  It simply has to pass through the general vicinity of the airport to cause problems (even if the storm is hundreds of miles away from the airport).  Here’s why: Think about the downtown area of the city that you live in.  How many major roads are there leading into the city?  And what happens when one or more of those roads is shut down for some reason (construction, accident, etc.)?  All of the cars that would have normally taken the road in question are forced to take an alternate route.  As a result, all of the other roads into the downtown area have more cars and traffic than they normally would.  These other roads simply cannot handle the increased volume of cars, which results in delays.  The same is true for airports and the “airways” that lead to them.

There are a number of highways in the sky that connect each and every airport from a variety of directions.  When weather passes over one of these highways or corridors, Air Traffic Controllers have to re-route airplanes along other paths.  Each path can only handle so many planes per hour, so ATC restricts the number of planes taking off and flying along the alternate paths.  The end result is your flight being delayed.  So, if you experienced a weather delay while trying to fly to say New York City, it could be caused by a storm that was nowhere near the city.  In fact, the storm could be as far away as Philadelphia or Washington DC and still cause a delay because it’s shutting down one or more “airways” to New York.  This is why your flight is delayed even though the weather at your destination is food.  It’s an unfortunate inconvenience, but it’s done for a very good reason…

please read:

How do weather delays improve safety when flying?

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