Inclement weather delays occur when the Federal Aviation Administration, the local airport, or a pilot decide that the weather conditions are too dangerous for safe travel. But this bad weather is more than just a period of cold weather or some light rain. Each commercial airplane makes several trips a day, and a previous flight that the plane was scheduled for may have been canceled or delayed because of bad weather. This can cause exceedingly long delays or flight cancellations for the passengers in the other airports that the plane was supposed to go to. Your flight status could also be impacted if the National Weather Service calls for severe weather, which could be anything from a thunderstorm to flash flooding. The FAA requires every airport that receives more than six inches of snow a year to create a winter weather plan and a committee to create guidelines for delayed operations.
Airline Snow Delays
Snow can cause issues during take-off, landings, or even while in flight. The FAA considers a runway to be contaminated when standing water, snow, ice, or slush are present. Heavy snow can make it difficult for a plane to take off or land safely because it can cause friction and reduce traction, which can lead to hydroplaning. Landing distances required are different for wet and dry runways, meaning some planes may not be able to land safely on their usual runway when snow is present. Small snowstorms without much accumulation aren't usually a concern at airports that are prepared for snow as they have the needed snow-removal equipment on hand. However, heavy snow makes it difficult to keep runways clear. Major airports that don't typically remove any snow, like Dallas, may be unprepared to handle even a small amount of snow. Blizzards, thunderstorms, and snow storms can cause low visibility, icing, or turbulence problems during flights and landings.
High Wind Delays at Airports
Strong winds can cause visibility issues for pilots or air traffic controllers even when there’s no severe weather like thunderstorms or snowfall. While the FAA determines safe parameters for crosswinds during flights, primarily for landings and takeoff, a local airport may need to cancel flights due to blowing or drifting snow. A strong wind might be OK for landings or departures on a sunny day, but when combined with ice may cause problems. Winds from winter storms can be strong and can lead to what meteorologists call "bomb cyclones" or "bombs." This type of wind can prevent take-offs and landings, or cause extreme turbulence in the air, leading to flight delays.
While planes can be de-iced if still at the airport, icing is an extremely dangerous weather condition for air travel. The runways become slick, making safe landings unlikely. Additionally, ice build-up on the aircraft itself can lead to mechanical or functional problems. In-flight icing is a bigger problem for small aircrafts because it can cause many more disruptions However, it can still cause issues on large planes. If there’s a storm of freezing rain, it is likely that there will be a weather delay, as ice can build up on the wings, windshields and runways.
Airline Obligations in Bad Weather
A "contract of carriage" or "conditions of carriage" forms a written agreement between an airline and its passengers. These contracts state that airlines are not responsible for providing compensation to passengers when the event affecting a delay in flight is related to weather or another incident outside of the airline's control. Passengers will be rerouted on the next available flight to their original destination or to another nearby destination of their choosing at no cost. Usually, this means that airlines will give their customers a voucher to get to their choice destination. One key protection for passengers is that they are eligible for a refund on the unused portion of their ticket; this is usually made as a travel certificate for a future flight. Passengers are typically not eligible for hotel compensation in the event that their flight is delayed a full day or more when the delay is weather-related. Airlines often allow passengers to rebook flights or change their travel plans for free ahead of time when blizzard conditions are pending. This can help reduce chaos at the airport when flights are canceled.