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Travel Tips

Why Was My Flight Delayed? 12 Common Reasons for Flight Delays


American airlines and Delta airlines planes in US airport ready to taxi and depart
What is in this blog? Table of contents:

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 20.67% of US flights were delayed by 15 minutes or more in 2022. 2023 is looking to have even more delays with 21.79% delayed so far this year.

In Europe too, airlines are struggling to land flights on time - only 64.5% of flights arrived on time in 2022.

What’s causing these delays? What to do when a flight is delayed? Can you track a flight’s current status? And, most importantly, how can you find out if you’re eligible for flight delay compensation?

Why are flights delayed?

Data from FlightAware, Cirium and OAG Punctuality League suggests that approximately 15% to over 20% of flights are delayed by 15 minutes or more every year.

Why so many delays? There’s a myriad of potential reasons. These reasons can be broadly grouped into 3 categories.

  • External Factors - reasons outside an airline’s control.
  • Operational Factors - issues related to immediate operational aspects of a specific flight or its passengers.
  • Airline and Technical Factors - related to an airline’s specific operational needs and any technical issues that arise.

12 common reasons your flight could be delayed:

Delta airlines plane 3896 in snowy conditions

External Factors:

#1 Bad Weather

When I say bad weather, I mean awful weather. Nowadays planes and pilots can handle bad weather a-okay.

For a purely weather-related delay, it needs to be extreme - think heavy storms, hurricanes, blizzards or strong winds.

As a result, significant delays due to weather are rarer than you may think. Whilst thinking of the weather, this is most likely the reason you are flying out of that destination, so here is a guide on the top 5 locations for winter sun.

#2 Visibility

Poor visibility, frequently caused by heavy fog, rain and snow. It probably won’t get your flight cancelled but it can cause delays.

A lack of visibility hampers a pilot’s ability to navigate. This in turn means they’ll take longer to complete processes and operations than in clear weather.

Emirates plane grounded in an airport next to luggage trucks

Operational Factors:

#3 Air Traffic Control

Air traffic control is a tough job - managing the flow of planes in an incredibly crowded portion of the sky.

While doing this they must keep in mind all manner of factors: weather, spacing between planes, and potential hazards.

Some planes are inevitably delayed as circumstances change and air traffic control responds appropriately.

#4 Security Threats

Security threats can apply to a variety of issues. It could be a terror threat, an aggressive passenger making staff and passengers feel unsafe, etc…

Or it could be that the plane is delayed in passing mandatory pre-flight security checks. Regardless, passenger and staff safety is paramount.

#5 Weight Restrictions

Planes have a maximum weight limit. This restriction varies depending on weather conditions, elevation and other factors.

If the combined weight of the plane, staff, cargo, fuel and passengers exceeds this maximum weight then expect delays. Staff will need to find ways to lighten the load prior to take-off.

#6 Waiting for Connecting Passengers

Your flight may be delayed waiting for passengers from a connecting flight. There’s no set formula for when this will happen.

It could be due to logistical considerations - maybe a passenger’s luggage is already loaded onto the plane. Or maybe to ensure a passenger on a previously delayed flight makes their connection.

#7 Loading Baggage

If you think heaving your suitcase onto the conveyor belt at check-in is hard work then spare a thought for the baggage handlers who spend all day loading planes with bags of all shapes, weights and sizes.

At times this process can be delayed, maybe a staff member is sick or maybe equipment has malfunctioned.

Whatever the issue, if there’s a delay in loading baggage onto the plane, your flight will probably be delayed too.

Delta Airlines N359NW being fuelled in US airport

Airline & Technical Factors:

#8 Knock-On Effect

This is the biggest offender in terms of flight delays.

What is the knock-on effect? It’s essentially a domino effect wherein if one plane is delayed then schedules and connections are thrown entirely out of sync.

This may not even affect just a couple of flights, it could have a cascading effect where flight after flight ends up delayed due to abruptly changed scheduling arrangements.

#9 Strikes

Industrial action is an ever-present threat in the air travel industry. There are so many highly skilled difficult to replace workers at airports and airlines. If even one of these professions goes on strike it’ll cause delays.

Strikes cause delays regardless of scale - whether it’s just the pace of work in one airport slowing down or the paralyzation of an entire country’s airspace.

#10 Technical/Mechanical Issues

Your flight could have been delayed to fix a sudden technical issue prior to departure.

The thought of a technical issue being resolved just before take-off might sound ominous. Don’t worry though, if it was a big issue the plane would be grounded and you’d be on a different plane.

#11 Crew Members Not Showing Up

Sometimes people just don’t show up for work. It’s a fact of life. I’ve done it, you’ve done it, and sometimes airline staff do it.

Due to regulations, planes can’t depart without a set number of staff on board. Therefore, a crew member not showing up can lead to a delay while the airline finds a replacement.

#12 Aircraft Preparation

It takes time to prepare a plane for take off. It needs cleaning, refuelling, fresh food needs to be brought aboard, and that’s not to forget boarding the passengers.

These are just a few of the pre-take-off tasks, there are many more. With such a long to-do list, it’s easy to see how staff fall behind at times, which in turn results in delays.

How do I check whether I am entitled to compensation for a delayed flight?

Unsurprisingly, the airline probably won’t tell you when you’re entitled to compensation. You’ll have to figure it out yourself.

Luckily there are flight delay compensation calculators available online. They’ll let you know in seconds whether or not you’re potentially entitled to compensation or maybe even a flight refund.

Here is a particularly easy-to-use flight delay compensation calculator. All you need are a few details like your flight number. Using this tool you can check flight delay compensation claims going back 6 years.

Had a flight delayed? Check if you are owed compensation — upto $640 per passenger

Check your Flight

Where can I track my flight?

There are several available apps and websites that allow you to track flights. The advantage of these is you can find out whether your flight is among the grounded flights, if it’s delayed, or on time - all through your phone.

Here are 3 of the best:

  • Flight Aware: This tool lets you check worldwide routes and flight statuses in real time. In addition to Flight Aware’s worldwide tracker, if you’re based in the US you can make use of their Flight Aware Misery Map. The flight misery map is a visual representation of all current flights, delays and cancellations in the US. It’s real-time, and the colour-coded infographic makes it easy to figure out whether the plane you’re tracking is on time, or if an airport is experiencing significant delays.
  • App In The Air: A service that tracks the status of flights all over the world. App In The Air goes one further than other flight tracking apps and offers personalised travel assistance too. Book hotels, track airline miles, and more all within one flight tracking app.
  • Flightview: This app provides up-to-date information on flights worldwide - it’ll send notifications so you’re instantly aware of any changes in your flight’s schedule. It even monitors the weather at your departure and arrival airport, keeping you informed of adverse weather that could affect your flight.

Can I find out why my flight is delayed?

While apps and sites will inform you of your flight’s status, they often won’t provide precise details as to why your flight is delayed. The best way to learn this information is to contact the airline directly.

If you’re already at the airport, ask at the customer service desk or the staff at your gate.

Otherwise, consider calling the airline’s customer service number and checking their app or website for details.


I hope now it’s a little clearer as to why flight delays happen.

But more importantly, I hope you’ve gained a deeper understanding of the tools available to figure out: if your flight is delayed, why it could be delayed, and whether you’re owed compensation for that delay.


Will the airline pay for a hotel if my hotel is cancelled?

It’s not guaranteed an airline will pay for a hotel if your flight is cancelled. Whether they’ll pay depends on several reasons including, the reason for the cancellation, local regulations and the terms stated in the airline’s “Contract of Carriage.”

How many inches of snow will cancel a flight?

There is no set amount of snow that results in flight cancellations. Airlines and airports all have their own guidelines that dictate whether or not a flight is to be cancelled in the case of snow or other bad weather.

What wind speeds cancel a flight?

As with snow, there’s no universal wind speed limit for flight cancellations. Cancellations due to wind speeds will depend on maximum crosswind and gust speeds set by the airline and that depends on the type of aircraft you’re flying in.

Can rain delay a flight?

As a general rule, there’s a minor chance of rain slightly delaying take-off, but this is rare and you shouldn’t worry about major delays. If the rain is part of a larger weather system you may then experience longer delays.

Are infants entitled to flight delay compensation?

Airlines have been known to refuse to pay flight compensation to infants. Despite this, infants are entitled to compensation. However, in order to get this compensation your infant will need to be a ticketed passenger and not flying for free sat on your lap.

Does travel insurance cover flight delay compensation?

Many travel insurance providers offer flight delay compensation. You can expect to be compensated for costs incurred due to the delay like meals, accommodations, etc.

Coverage varies depending on the insurance provider so be sure to read your policy carefully.

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