With the holiday travel season coming up, this seems like a good time to talk about canceled flights. Truth is, there is a lot we don’t know about why flights are canceled because airlines are not always forthcoming with details. Nevertheless, there is a lot we do know.
Flights are sometimes canceled because of natural disasters. This could mean anything from weather to volcanos erupting to unexpected issues relating to war torn areas. All of these are considered beyond the control of the carriers.
It is not uncommon for someone to say their flight shouldn’t be canceled because the weather is great in both the city they are flying from as well as their destination. However, the picture is often more complex than this. Very often the plane from their originating city is coming in from somewhere else where there may be weather issues. This, of course, creates a cascading effect.
And then there are sometimes problems with airline-controlled issues. Most often these are mechanical, covering a very wide range of things but almost always related to safety issues. Another reason for cancelations might be labor issues like a strike or employee slowdown but the carriers are very hesitant to admit this unless they absolutely have to.
Sometimes it is a combination of both. Weather delays somewhere might mean flight crews can’t make it to their intended connecting flights and there isn’t another backup crew available, sometimes because crews time out, meaning they are not allowed to work another flight yet. You can bet the carriers will blame this on weather even though it is impossible to understand why without an explanation.
The flights most often canceled first are the regionals. In part it is because they are more sensitive to weather issues but also, these smaller jets carry fewer passengers so it is easier – and less costly to the airlines – to reroute them before any of their larger aircraft.
Based on conversations with airline executives and other personnel, it seems there is actually a pecking order with some carriers. First and foremost, they protect their international flights. This really makes sense since these planes carry the most passengers, who paid the most money to travel the furthest distance, and are easily the most expensive for the airlines when these flights have to be canceled.
Next in line would be the domestic mainline aircraft. Some airlines may drill down to the passenger list to decide which of these are canceled. Think of this as a giant chess board where the airline ops center looks at the effect of each individual flight affecting all the others. For example, one thing they look at is the number of international connecting passengers. Another consideration would be the number of elites onboard. Yes, elite status does sometimes offer silent benefits.
If there is any consolation to those affected by canceled flights – and I understand why there might not be when you are the one affected – none of the carriers want it to happen. It often means aircraft and crew need to be repositioned and sometimes the airlines are required to pay for overnight accommodations for their passengers. Each incidence costs them anywhere from a few thousand dollars to many thousands. But in the end, it is something we as passengers will pay for one way or another.
Take this advice from someone who has been stuck sleeping in airports overnight on occasion because there were no hotel rooms available: Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Always have a Plan B when possible but understand that sometimes you may be on the short end of a very long stick.
And speaking of sleeping in airports, check out the airport chapel the next time you may be in a need of a quiet place to get some sleep.
Wishing you safe and on-time travels this holiday season!