We all know how frustrating it can get when our flights are cancelled. That’s why sometimes we choose more expensive tickets or a more premium carrier.
However, the reasons why flights get cancelled are more complicated than that.
Sometimes, it can go far as out of any airline’s reach. In such cases, also known as extraordinary circumstances (bad weather conditions, political unrest, ill passenger, etc.), you as a passenger would not be able to claim compensation.
Let’s explore what stops you from getting to your destination on time (or even getting there at all).
What To Do If You Flights Get Cancelled
Just ask, they will help. But remember to stay calm! Photo by Evangeline Shaw on Unsplash
To begin, contact the airline's customer care or hotline as quickly as possible to learn about your alternatives. Speed is now crucial. The other options include airline agents’ desks,
They can give you information on alternative flights, rebooking possibilities, compensation or assistance you need. Prepare your booking information as well as any applicable travel insurance information.
On that matter, check with your travel insurance provider if you have one. Learn about your coverage for cancelled flights and whether you are entitled to reimbursement of charges.
The airline will likely rebook you for another flight. Sometimes, the departure destination will be different, and you have to travel there by yourself (you also have to cover the cost from your own pocket).
To manage the situation smoothly, it is best to remain calm, obtain all required information, and keep open communication with the airline.
Weather is the top reason for most flight cancellations. Photo by Dmitry Vereshchagin - stock.adobe.com
Severe storms, heavy fog, low visibility, and snowstorms can all have a substantial influence on flight operations. These weather-related elements present a variety of difficulties and concerns, frequently resulting in flight cancellations, delays, and safety precautions.
Thunderstorms, hurricanes, and cyclones all pose major threats to aircraft operations. These storms create turbulent conditions with high winds, torrential rain, and the possibility of tornadoes.
Heavy fog and poor visibility also offer difficulties that frequently result in flight cancellations and delays. Instruments and visibility criteria are used by pilots to decide whether it is safe to begin or continue a flight.
In foggy situations, advanced technologies such as Instrument Landing Systems (ILS) and radar systems improve navigation and situational awareness.
Snowstorms and blizzards wreak havoc, particularly in areas prone to extreme winter weather. Back in late 2022, a winter storm caused some 2,500 flights cancelled in a day across America.
When the weather is too bad, planes are usually rerouted or postponed. Angry customers are still much preferred over injured ones. Furthermore, they won’t be penalised for this reason.
Sometimes, due to unfortunate circumstances, you don’t even get a refund, like the case of a family whose trip to Disneyland was cancelled.
CabinZero tip: Check the weather forecast for both your destination and where you are flying from. Also, keep an eye on your flight’s status via app or 3rd party websites.
When the systems or instruments go haywire, you don’t want to fly. Photo by Bostan Natalia - stock.adobe.com
Technical challenges in aircraft can include a wide range of issues affecting various systems and components. Sensor failures, hydraulic system faults, communication disruptions, and even failures in essential flight control systems are all examples of malfunctions.
These problems can affect everything from avionics and electrical systems to engines and landing gear. Hence, they pose serious risks to flight operations and passenger safety.
That is why advanced onboard monitoring systems are critical in modern aeroplanes for detecting and alerting pilots to technical concerns.
CabinZero tips: Want to lower the chances of your flights getting cancelled? Consider booking a red-eye flight. Airports are less busy at night. Hence, you are less likely to have delays, cancellations, or diversions.
These technologies continuously monitor numerous factors and offer real-time data on the health and performance of the aircraft. These monitoring systems can detect probable defects or anomalous behaviour in different areas using advanced sensors and diagnostics.
Pilots are then notified via warning indicators, enabling them to take appropriate steps like switching to backup systems, commencing emergency procedures, or requesting repair assistance.
Even though this might not sound severe, it is because we are not familiar with it. For example, a computer glitch's impact on Southwest Airlines was devastating.
In April 2023, passengers of hundreds of Southwest flights were not able to proceed with their travel. According to Southwest's announcement, the reason was “data connection issues”. Thankfully, the problem was quickly resolved just around 2 hours later. In many cases, the speed was not this fast.
Planes need to be in tip-top shape for maximum safety. Photo by Chalabala - stock.adobe.com
Even before the pilots sit in the cockpit, a problem might occur during the pre-flight inspections or daily procedures.
These issues might range from minor hiccups to major breakdowns that necessitate rapid care. When it comes to dealing with unscheduled maintenance on time, airlines have a number of obstacles.
The availability of replacement parts, specialised equipment, and qualified maintenance people can all have a substantial impact on the repair schedule.
In some circumstances, these materials may be difficult to get, causing delays in the restoration procedure.
Furthermore, coordinating maintenance plans and managing resource allocation throughout an aircraft fleet can present logistical issues for airlines.
Because of these limitations, when faced with unscheduled maintenance, airlines prioritise passenger safety over preserving flight schedules.
The decision to postpone or cancel a flight due to a mechanical problem is taken to ensure that all necessary repairs are completed, and the aircraft is safe to fly.
It is worth knowing that this emphasis on safety reflects the industry's commitment to the comfort of passengers. Back in 2022, several flights of Flair - a regional airline of Canada - were cancelled due to three out-of-service planes, two of which had to be scheduled for maintenance.
Suspicious packages or objects/Terrorist threats
A suspicious unattended bag could very well trigger a security alert. Photo by Viktorua - stock.adobe.com
The existence of suspicious goods or objects also creates substantial issues in aviation security. This is because the large number of people in airports makes these places high-profile targets for terrorism.
Accompanied with these items are some possible threats, such as the presence of explosive devices or toxic drugs. Detecting and handling such objects is critical to ensuring passenger safety and the integrity of the aviation sector.
Protocols and processes are in place to properly identify and handle suspicious packages or things.
To identify potential threats, all baggage and cargo are subjected to thorough screening processes that include X-ray scanning and manual inspections. Bomb detecting units, including trained canine teams, are also deployed to improve detection skills and accuracy in identifying suspicious materials.
Similar to dealing with terrorists, airports need to coordinate with law enforcement agencies to optimise the security system. When a suspicious item is discovered, airports and security staff promptly alert and work with law enforcement to analyse the situation, gather evidence, and determine the best course of action.
As many as 100 passengers were affected by a flight cancellation due to a spot of a suspicious device in a checked bag at University Park Airport.
Even as safe as Japan, this country is not an exception to terrorist threats. A domestic flight of Jetstar, on January of 2023, was cancelled due to a bomb threat.
Sometimes there are not enough of these guys. Photo by Blake Guidry on Unsplash
Crew shortages or scheduling issues can disrupt airline operations, resulting in delays, cancellations, and the need for reassignments.
Before blaming the airlines, you should know that there are several reasons.
Crew shortages can be caused by a variety of circumstances, including unexpected illness among crew members, constraints imposed by fatigue laws to assure crew rest hours, and last-minute changes to flight plans.
These unplanned occurrences might disrupt planned flight staffing, making it difficult for airlines to maintain seamless operations.
CabinZero tip: You can track your flight status via the carrier’s app or by putting your flight number into Google. The webpage flightaware.com is another good resource.
Airlines make tremendous efforts through a variety of strategies to alleviate personnel shortages. To minimise the impact on flight operations, they prepare contingency plans that include backup crew members or alternate staffing arrangements.
To maximize crew utilization and maintain effective staffing, crew resource management (CRM) strategies are adopted. This program encourages collaboration among crew members to ensure the smooth flow of flight operations.
In February 2023, just within 5-6 days, four flights to either Canada or the U.S. were cancelled by Air India because of crew shortages. It is a real issues, the FAA is even said to be 3,000 staff short.
Airport security breaches expose potential flaws in security systems that can jeopardise passenger safety and aviation operations.
Unauthorised entry into restricted locations or the smuggling of prohibited products is instances of security breaches that necessitate strong countermeasures.
CabinZero tips: Consider signing up for Global Entry or TSA Precheck for faster security or customs check at the airports.
These scenarios can have serious implications, such as aircraft delays, evacuations, or the adoption of additional security measures. Security breaches interrupt the operation's smooth flow and endanger the travelling public.
Airports and security agencies use a variety of tactics to improve security and avoid security breaches. Surveillance cameras, access control systems, and biometric identification systems are among the advanced technology used in these efforts.
With these amazing technologies, the rate of security breaches has significantly reduced over the years. But it is very difficult to completely avoid them.
Back in October 2022, thousands of passengers were affected by a security breach at Melbourne Airport. This happened just because one passenger was able to get on a flight without being checked by security.
When things got too far. Photo by Julien Maculan on Unsplash
Political unrest, civil unrest, or hostilities in a region can have a considerable impact on aviation operations. When faced with political upheaval or conflict, airlines and aviation authorities take a variety of precautions to safeguard the safety of passengers and crew.
This entails closely monitoring the ground situation, estimating the amount of risk, and making informed flight operations decisions. Depending on the size, different security options will be implemented.
In the worst-case scenario, airlines may choose to cancel or reroute flights to alternative destinations if the scenario offers a significant threat. For instance, there were numerous protests broke out in Peru, causing flight cancellations around December 2022.
Air traffic control system failures
The blue sky is a more crowded place than we think. Photo by Beckett P on Unsplash
Even though not problems the planes, failures in air traffic control systems can have far-reaching consequences for flight operations and safety.
These failures include a variety of technological concerns, including communication failures, radar outages, or software malfunctions, etc. Even though some of them don’t sound severe, all can interrupt air traffic flow and threat passenger safety.
In such cases, coordinated actions with nearby air traffic control centres are critical. Controllers will communicate information, coordinate flight rerouting, and devise temporary procedures.
Under the influence of system failures, these collaborations can help mitigate the risks significantly. Just earlier this year, around 200 flights at Frankfurt airport were cancelled after the broadband cables were damaged.
Airline bankruptcy or financial issues
Sometimes it’s the end of an airline that causes cancellation. Photo by form PxHere
Bankruptcy proceedings can have serious consequences for airlines and their operations.
When an airline declares bankruptcy, it begins a legal procedure to address its financial problems. Flight cancellations are a regular occurrence as part of an airline's overall attempt to decrease costs, streamline operations, and fulfil bankruptcy court rules.
Airlines may save money on fuel, maintenance, staffing, and other operational costs by cancelling flights. This enables them to concentrate their limited resources on the most profitable routes and services, boosting the likelihood of financial recovery.
Furthermore, airline cancellations during bankruptcy procedures sometimes entail flight consolidation to simplify operations and make the best use of existing resources. In earlier 2023, Flybe had to cancel a large number of its flights due to its ceasing trading.
Strike-related operational interruptions can have a substantial impact on airline operations. Photo by boophuket - stock.adobe.com
Participants can be pilots, cabin crew, ground staff, or air traffic controllers. Events like this are likely to result in flight cancellations, delays, or rescheduling.
When employees go on strike, there may need to be more skilled staff to operate planes. These interruptions can have far-reaching consequences, impacting not just the impacted airline but also connecting flights, codeshare agreements, and customers' entire travel arrangements.
Regarding customers’ comfort, airlines may establish alternate travel arrangements. This includes rebooking impacted customers on other flights, arranging ground transportation or lodging, and offering refunds or compensation in accordance with the airline's laws and regulations.
Surprisingly, it is not as rare as many people think. On Friday, 21 October 2022, for 24 hours, air traffic controllers and handling staff walked out of an airport in Italy to protest payroll and working hours.
With the UK industrial disputes throughout 2022-2023, many UK airports are no exception. Read more about the walkouts here.
Lack of Planes
Number of passengers increase, yet the number of planes remain largely the same. Photo by tan4ikk - stock.adobe.com
Flight cancellations can occur when there is insufficient available aircraft owing to a variety of variables and conditions.
Aircraft maintenance, as mentioned earlier, is actually a prevalent reason. In such scenarios, if alternative planes are not available, flights may be cancelled.
Unexpected occurrences that impair airline operations are another factor contributing to the shortage of available planes. Grounding orders issued by aviation authorities, worldwide crises, or natural disasters are examples of such incidents.
For example, during a global epidemic, airlines' fleet availability may be restricted due to lower demand, budgetary constraints, or government-imposed travel restrictions. In such instances, airlines may be forced to cancel flights owing to a lack of planes in order to satisfy lower demand or meet regulatory standards.
Flight cancellations can also be caused by fleet limits. Airlines have a limited number of planes in their fleet, and during peak travel seasons or periods of heightened demand, the available planes may not be enough to accommodate all planned flights. In such cases, airlines may be forced to cancel certain flights in order to prioritise available aircraft for the most vital or high-demand routes.
In an article published by CBSNews in 2022, Kit Darby - founder of Kit Darby Aviation Consulting – expected to see many flight cancellations during the week of July 4th. This was sadly not a one-time problem, but a repeated one according to Mr Darby’s experience.
Passenger medical emergency
The flight may have to stop even when passengers need medical treatment. Photo by Nitiphol - stock.adobe.com
Medical emergencies involving passengers can arise unexpectedly during flights and have the potential to disrupt aircraft operations.
Minor sickness or discomfort to more serious disorders requiring emergency medical intervention are some examples.
Fun fact: The first female flight attendants were required to be registered nurses.
When a medical emergency occurs onboard, airlines and cabin crew members face extreme difficulties. They must not only ensure the well-being of the affected passenger but also maintain the flight's safety and schedule.
The procedures in such cases cover contacting the flight crew, coordinating with ground-based medical personnel and finding a way to help the passengers in need.
In April 2023, an EasyJet flight had to be cancelled as a passenger was unwell and needed medical treatment.
Note: If you are ill and need to cancel your travel, make direct contact with your airline and advise them of your predicament. They will walk you through the cancellation procedure and advise you of any costs or refund policies that may apply.
Some airlines may want additional evidence, such as a doctor's letter, so be prepared to supply it if necessary.
1. If An Airline Cancels Your Flight, What Are You Entitled To?
Compensation for a cancelled flight is determined by a number of criteria, including the airline's rules, the reason for the cancellation, and applicable laws or regulations.
You may be entitled to compensation or alternative travel arrangements in specific instances.; especially in situations that are within the airlines’ control (maintenance problems, crew shortages, etc.).
In cases of extreme conditions beyond the airline's control, such as severe weather or air traffic control constraints, compensation might not be given.
2. Why are so many flights getting cancelled?
As you can see, there are numerous reasons that can cause this inconvenience. Even though each of them does not have a high percentage of happening, they do add up.
And the top reason isn’t the weather, it’s the staff shortage. After the pandemic, nearly two years of pent-up travel demand bursts, and it seems the aviation industry can’t catch up. There’s a lack of crew, planes, airport handlers, and even FAA staff.
3. Which airport has the most Cancelled flights?
Down here would be two lists of airports in the U.S. and Europe in 2022:
- Buffalo Niagara International Airport: 5.55%
- Southwest Florida International Airport 5.47%
- LaGuardia Airport 5.19%
- Newark Liberty International Airport: 4.82%
- Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport: 3.93%
- Frankfurt International Airport: 7.8%
- Schiphol Airport: 5.2%
- Lisbon Airport: 4.8%
- Cote D'Azur Airport: 3.4%
- Charles De Gaulle Airport: 3.1%
Some Final Words
We hope that you have a better understanding of the reasons why flights get cancelled if you are in this situation next time.
It might not be due to the airlines, so stay calm and deal with the situation. It is arguably the only way to have a smooth process and achieve satisfactory results.
Also, if it is possible, inquire with the airlines about the cause of the cancellation. With more information, better decisions are easier to make. Flight safe! We hope you will not be in such circumstances!
Bui Hoang Hai