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As travelers, we live in a world where nothing can be said to be certain except for death, taxes, and cancelled flights; this month there were an estimated 20,000 + cancellations in North America alone.

Cancelled flights are one of the most frustrating things to have to deal with as a traveler. Thankfully it doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does, those three letter airport codes make us want to use some four letter words!

It’s important to remember that flights are only ever cancelled when it’s in the best interest of the passenger, and when this happens, most airlines will typically have some type of compensation organized.

It can be even more frustrating when there’s no obvious cause for the cancellation, but there is always a reason. It will most commonly be one of the reasons below.

7 Reasons Airlines Cancel Flights

Inclement Weather

Weather is perhaps the most obvious reason a flight will be cancelled, after-all, who wants to be flying through a major thunderstorm. There are Disneyland rides for that.

A plane being grounded because of weather is done so for reasons of safety, and uncooperative weather can range from snow storms and hurricanes, to fog, strong winds, or even because it’s too hot to fly (aircraft are unable to work when the temperature becomes extremely high).

The bad news is that airlines often cancel flights in anticipation of bad weather. No airline wants to strand passengers, but the general industry standard is that it’s better to inconvenience travelers at their point of origin than having a sky full of planes that can’t land.

New York weather RF

What You Should Do

Before you head to the airport, check the weather in both your departure and arrival destinations (it might be bright and sunny where you are, but your plane may still be cancelled if it is deemed you won’t be able to land), and check your flight status.

Airlines are typically not penalized for delays or cancellations due to weather or natural disasters, so if you’re hoping for compensation, this is where travel insurance will have to step in.

Security

Airport

Many flights are cancelled these days due to security risks, for instance if there is a bomb scare at the airport you’re flying from, or if there has been a threat / attack in the destination you’re flying to.

Airline security these days is the tightest it’s ever been, and when it comes to security, airlines don’t take any risks. If there is a genuine concern around the security of the flight, the plane will be grounded.

What You SHOULDN’T Do

Don’t joke about taboo subjects while in the airport. The airport is not an appropriate place for humor about bombs, terrorism, explosives, guns, shootings, dynamite, or any variations of these.

You might wonder who would be stupid enough to make a bomb threat as a joke at an airport, but according to the TSA, many people do.

Unattended luggage is also a huge airport security risk, so make sure your bag is always with you. Don’t leave your bags in the terminal when you go to the bathroom, or set it in a corner because you don’t want to carry it through a lengthy queue.

Mechanical Issues

A cancellation due to mechanical issues quite simply means your plane is broken and needs to be repaired. This could mean a million different things, from a hydraulic leak to a faulty engine, or perhaps a door that fell off its hinge (it happened to me in Finland!).

Because there’s too much at risk to fly a plane that is faulty (as a for instance, hundreds of lives!) every part of the plane needs to be in perfect condition for the flight.

Ideally, you’ll only be delayed for a short amount of time while a replacement part is brought in and the plane is fixed, or switched to another flight, but often this may be cause to cancel the flight.

Plane flight airport

What You Should Do

One of the most important things when negotiating a cancelled flight is to keep your cool and not get angry. Ultimately, logic needs to override emotion, and ground staff will be more willing to help you if you’re not being abusive.

Head to the airline sales desk to find out what they can do for you. Mechanical issues are something that is within the airlines control, so most companies will either place you on a new flight, or give you a refund.

Some airlines will provide vouchers for meals, refreshments, transfers and accommodation depending on the length of your wait.

Depending on which continent you’re on will depend on whether you’re eligible for any compensation. Compensation for cancelled flights in Australia is rare, though in Europe passengers are eligible for compensation if their flight arrives more than three hours after originally scheduled.

If you have experienced flight disruptions, have a look at this informative flight delay article from Skyrefund. They can help you get your compensation and represent you with their team of expert lawyers.

Computer Glitch

Technology is pretty incredible 99% of the time, though even the smallest computer glitch or shortest outage can cause large scale cancellations across the globe.

Things like flight patterns and schedules are all dependent on computer algorithms, and systems are designed to make sure planes have a clear path through the crowded skies. Anything that takes this system down means that your plane won’t fly.

Airlines experience computer outages, though a flight might also be cancelled because of a glitch that originated in air traffic control. This could be due to a system failure, power outage, cyber attack, or range of other IT issues.

For instance, there were at least 726 British Airways flights cancelled in May last year in a global IT computer outage which reportedly cost the airline 80 million pounds in compensation costs.

What You Should Do

Another issue considered to be within the airline’s control, you may be eligible for compensation depending on the circumstances of your flight cancellation and how greatly it has affected you.

But beyond that, if there’s a computer glitch, flights aren’t going anywhere until it’s fixed, so best to get comfortable and read this post on how to kill time at the airport.

Missing Aircraft

Airport runway missing plane RF

It stands to reason that without an aircraft, you can’t fly. And sometimes this is the reason for cancelled flights.

Not having an aircraft available for a flight might be due to a cancelled or delayed flight at another airport.

It might be because mechanical issues have affected the only available plane, or it could be because the airline overbooked, and when all passengers show up there’s no plane that can service the flight.

What You Should Do

Airlines have the legal right to overbook seats on a plane, which is often done by calculating that a percentage of people won’t show up for the flight.

When an airline has overbooked a flight, they will ask for volunteers to take another flight, and often offer a cash incentive to do so. If none are forthcoming, passengers will be involuntarily bumped.

At that point, there’s really not much a passenger can do. The amount of compensation due usually depends on the individual carrier.

Missing Crew

Like any workplace, sometimes flights end up not having the necessary crew. This could be from people calling in sick and there not being an available replacement, or simply crew confusing their scheduling.

Last year Ryanair had an embarrassing roster mess up, where over 400,000 passengers had their flights cancelled as Human Resources hadn’t considered vacation time for their pilots when hiring.

But a flight might also be cancelled if the crew show up, but are considered “unfit to fly”. This could be anything from health reasons to physical injuries and mental health issues, having had too littler sleep, or presenting for work drunk.

Jettar Australia flight plane

What You Should Do

Often in the case of missing crew, a flight will be delayed once or twice before it is actually cancelled. During the time the flight is delayed, the airline will be scrambling to find a replacement crew.

Once your flight has been delayed once or twice, start researching your options for finding another flight. Find out which other flights are running on code share airlines, and then head to the sales desk to see if you can be bumped to a different flight.

If you’ve booked to fly early in the morning you’ll have more options for being rebooked onto another flight, as opposed to potentially being stuck at the airport overnight.

Photo credit: Jetstar Airways

To Save More Widespread Cancellations

This post has some fabulous insight on how you can save in 2017, making sure you’re always getting the best airfare!

Contrary to popular belief, airlines don’t cancel flights just to save money, for instance if there aren’t enough passengers to make it worth their while. But they do cancel flights to prevent even wider cancellations and delays.

Flights don’t often exist in isolation, but are interconnected as part of a complex route. For instance an aircraft might start the day in Baltimore, and end the day in California, providing 9 other passenger flights throughout the day on route to its final destination.

If a particular city is experiencing heavy airport delays, airlines might choose to cancel those flights, so that they delay doesn’t propegate to the next flight and cause widespread delays throughout the day.

The idea is that strategically cancelling a small number of flights and inconveniencing a small number of passengers can prevent delays and other hassles for a far larger number of passengers. Source

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Megan is an Australian Journalist and award-winning travel writer who has been blogging since 2007. Her husband Mike is the American naturalist and wildlife photographer behind Waking Up Wild; an online magazine dedicated to opening your eyes to the wonders of the wild & natural world.

Having visited 50+ countries across all seven continents, Megan’s travels focus on cultural immersion, authentic discovery and incredible journeys. She has a strong passion for ecotourism, and aims to promote responsible travel experiences.

    

    32 Comments

  1. Let’s get real- airlines have – and do- cancel flights when they lack a quorum. (Each airline has its own minimum number). Often, at the end of the day, when there already is a plane at the intended destination that can start the next day’s routine.

    It’s exacerbated by the fact that the airlines overschedule their crews, and are now at the end- or will exceed the “end” of their daily maximum, due to previous delays and problems. (Along that line, airlines no longer have “available” staff to show up when delays mean the crew has passed the regulatory maximum travel of the day.)

    • I can understand the quorum coming into play on the last flight of the day if the plane is already at the intended destination, unfortunately that doesn’t provide a whole lot of incentive for it to HAVE to fly, which is why I definitely recommend people book flights earlier in the morning, because then even if something legitimate does cause a cancellation, you have multiple options for being bumped onto something else.

      The culture of over scheduling staff definitely has to change, unfortunately I think that’s something that will have to change from inside the management ladder.

    • I once flew British Airways from UK to Frankfurt and there was literally less than 10 passangers on board (plane sat about 100 pax). Even the air crew were scratching their heads saying “is this it?”

      But sure enough, the flight still went ahead.

    • I’ve been on a couple of those flights too, it’s great having the choice of which row you want to yourself!

    • Oh my dont even tell me cancellation cost me thousands cause didnt have insurance and intermediaries didnt want to help and I know some agencies are very helpful.

  2. It is very common for airlines to cancel the issue, they cancel the flight for human safety.

    • Absolutely Sing, it’s typically only done with passenger safety in mind.

  3. The simple truth is that no-one (other than the airlines) will know why a flight was cancelled. They don’t have to tell you why.

    Best advice I can give is keep in contact with the airline for up dates.

    • Yes many times when my flight has been cancelled the reasoning of ‘mechanical issue’ is pretty vague. But they’re not going to fly if it’s not safe, so I keep that in mind and try to roll with the punches. Not a lot you can do unfortunately.

      One of our flights was recently cancelled and we found out before the girls at the desk as we were checking the airline app which updated before the ground crew got the call. So I can highly recommend airline apps too.

  4. Cancellations are a nightmare. I have a 4 hour journey to the closest airport as it is. I usually do book early flights to beat any rush if a flight is cancelled and make sure I can get out that same day.

    • Ouch 4 hours is a big commute! Clever idea to book flights early, hopefully it doesn’t mean you have to be awake at too crazy of an hour to get there in time!

  5. You can check the weather but then again the weather predictions are not exactly always what you’d call accurate.

    • I’ve found our weather predictions here in Australia re pretty accurate around a week out, though for sure, there will always be days where it gets it wrong. Still a good habit I think for having a general idea of whether you’re likely to run into weather problems at the airport.

  6. Looks like there has been some disruption at heathrow today. Very windy here in Brussels also. Hopefully it passes over quickly.

    • Sorry to hear that, probably for the best if they held off until it passed, I would rather wait delayed at the airport than have to fly through crazy turbulence tbh!

  7. I had my flight changed from KL to MEL, now I have a 6:30hr wait instead of a 3hr. Not really fussed, I’ll just chill in the lounge.

    • Hope the time goes quickly for you. The lounge is a pretty good place to spend it, at least there’ll be food and drink there for you :)

  8. I had a flight booked on Ryanair and received text message that my flight has been cancelled. The only two possibilities they gave me were to rebook my flight (out of question: they cancelled also flights in following days, up to Thursday) or get refund… But this refund is too small to cover expense of buying a new ticket, just four days before departure!

    There was nowhere any information about reason why flight was cancelled nor any trace of information about a possible compensation. Fuming.

    • Sorry to hear Wilhelm :( I hope that you managed to sort something out that didn’t ruin your planned travel.

  9. Under UK statute of limitations you can claim up to 6 years after the canceled flight, not that you should wait anywhere near that long. And make sure you claim for the €400 and additional expenses.

    • Didn’t know that, I agree, I think I would want to claim it a lot sooner though :D

  10. Flight was cancelled. No refund. Had to buy new ticket to get home …much more expensive than original. No refund for that either.

    At end of holiday, airport check-in staff said my return flight was cancelled, and had been moved to an earlier flight, which had already left. Unacceptable.

    They claimed an email had been sent with flight changes. I had been staying in mountains with no internet, but once home, confirmed there was NO email. Plus, I had a holiday schedule and I would have been unable and unwilling to shorten my holiday.

    My only option was to buy another ticket home. It was much more expensive than the original ticket.

    I followed the complaints procedure. Nothing. No response. No refund.

    Made my complaint by phone and online form. Also made several trips to airport. Made complaint in person and filled all the official complaint forms at customer service desk. Waste of time. No response.

    After similar experiences, leaving groups stranded on business trips, my company booking consultants have blacklisted Vueling. For professional use, they are unsuitable.

    For travellers: If you want to arrive at your destination, or get home safely using pre-bought tickets – use a reputable airline. Never Vueling.

    • Sounds like a nightmare, sorry to hear about your experience Jonas. I actually haven’t heard of Vueling before, but I’ll be sure to steer clear!

  11. Would an airline ever consider particular cancelling a flight due to a lack of passengers?

    • Hi Rachel, it’s generally not in their best interests to do so, as we mentioned in the post, more airlines operate off routes, so the plane will be expected in various destinations throughout the day, and cancelling one flight on that route just because of lack of passengers would throw off the rest of the days flights. So if it does happen it’s pretty rare :)

  12. This is the worst – even worse when they keep delaying a flight instead of cancelling it though. I would almost rather have a flight cancelled straight up and have a resolution offered than sit for hours through repeated delays to then only be cancelled anyway.

  13. flight cancelled due to “weather”. Bright blue sky at departure location, cloudy overcast in destination. Earlier flight leaves and lands at the same destination, later flights leave and land at the same destination. How can this be weather related? Oh, btw the airplane for that flight was coming from a different airport, but was sitting on the ground at the departure airport the entire time. What’s your take on that?

    • Hi Brian, sorry to hear your flight was cancelled, I hope they got you on a later flight. The only way what you’ve described could possibly be weather related would be if something had swept in on the route. Would have had to have passed pretty quickly though if a later flight was then cleared to take off. It would be great if the airlines were actually able to provide proper information though, I do hate that it’s often so vague as to the reasons they give out.

      Hope you got there safely in the end :)

  14. From now on, instead of getting frustrated at the airline, I’ll try to remember they had a good reason 😇

    • Most of the time it’s a good reason anyway haha :D Happy new year!

    • Haha it’s hard not to get frustrated when you’re so excited about your trip though! Happy new year to you! 🎉🎊

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