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Why are there frequent flight delays ?


In most cases, delays are unavoidable when the skies become more crowded as more and more people want to fly by air. Generally, most of the delays are attributed to obtaining air traffic clearances, passengers who failed to turn up after checking in their baggage, bad weather or technical defects.

Pilots do not deliberately delay flights for no good reasons, for any delays, even for a minute, would have to be explained in details to the Management in writing. Failure to give satisfactory reasons will entail a visit to the Office for a further explanation. In one Airline, the Captain delayed his flight for more than an hour just because he had not taken his meal. He was subsequently suspended.

Air Traffic Clearances

Apart from that, most delays are attributed to obtaining Air Traffic clearances in very congested airspaces. Where certain destinations are very popular and busy at peak time, the air traffic controllers have to sequence their departures at 10 minutes interval when ground radar services are not available. Thus, in such situations, delays are almost inevitable.


Passengers themselves often delay flights too. If a passenger with no check-in baggage fail to turn up at the stipulated time, he would be left behind. However, on International flights, passengers who have checked in with baggage and failed to show up, either because they were so engrossed with their duty free shopping or got lost in the complex terminal, the flight cannot depart without them. The rationale behind this is that Airlines are mindful of the fact that there are some lunatics or terrorists who may plant explosives that may not be detected by X-rays in their bags and deliberately miss the flight. So their bags must be located and off-loaded as a precaution before the aircraft can depart.


Flights are also delayed due to poor weather like snow, heavy rain, microburst activities in the vicinity of thunderstorms or thick fog. In such situations, aircraft may be subjected to holding in the air for weather improvement or air traffic controllers may impose, for safety reasons, wider separation between aircraft. For instance, instead of allowing an aircraft to land every 2 or 3 minutes, the separation may sometimes be up to twice as long or even more.

Technical Defects

Modern aircraft are very reliable technically. Many redundant systems are designed to allow aircraft to proceed with minor defects. However, Murphy Law states that "..if a system can fail, it will fail...", so technically, some major systems may fail before flight and therefore they must be rectified. The philosophy that "it is better to arrive safe than never" is very true. Therefore, be patient, if on that unfortunate day, you are delayed by a small technical defect. You can now feel at ease, knowing fully well that the aircraft is in good condition for the rest of the journey.

Information of Interest to Passengers

  • When you see engineers in the cockpit or cabin frantically writing something in the technical log book, they have physically completed the rectification and are trying their best to clear the defect legally so as to release it for flight without further delay.
  • Pilot will always endeavor to make up for delays by taking short cuts along certain Airways when approved by air traffic controllers.


Is this information sufficient for your knowledge?    


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