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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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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