A Better Flight Plan

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Holiday Travel Tips Amid Winter Weather

Across the country, travelers are packing their bags and heading to the airport to spend the holidays with loved ones. And U.S. airlines are working diligently to ensure the safety of all travelers – especially amid winter storms. 

Severe weather events – including snowstorms and icy conditions – may have an impact on flight plans as the U.S. airline industry and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) work collaboratively to prioritize the safety of all travelers. In fact, weather is the most common reason that a flight may be delayed or canceled. These changes are never taken lightly but are always done in the interest of safety. 

Our industry experts have answered some frequently asked questions:

Q: How can winter weather impact air travel? 

A: Winter weather poses unique challenges with icy runways, strong gale winds, and snowy conditions. Airlines and airports take great care to deice both planes and runways, but this process can take time. Flight dispatchers and pilots constantly monitor these conditions and update accordingly based on their specific aircraft capabilities. 

Q: It’s sunny outside. Why is my flight delayed because of weather? 

A: Travelers may see blue skies outside the window, but the FAA and our nation’s ATC controllers have to look at weather events across the country that can impact flight paths. If the weather conditions at your destination fall below a safety minimum at the estimated time of arrival, you will be delayed. These professionals are highly skilled and well-trained, and they will not take risks that jeopardize safety in our skies.

Q: Who makes the decision to delay or cancel a flight? How do they decide?

A: The decision to delay or cancel a flight is often a collaborative decision between airlines and the FAA’s air traffic controllers (ATC) that is always done in the interest of safety. 

Pilots and flight dispatchers work together to identify the best route and alternate for a particular flight. Pilots relay information from the aircraft to the dispatchers while dispatchers constantly monitor weather at the points of departure and arrival and along the flight path. Planes are loaded with enough fuel for the chosen route and the Plan B alternate route. In certain weather conditions, there may even a Plan C route! 

After all safety checks in the cockpit and aircraft cabin are accounted for, the captain signs off on the flight plan, indicating they are comfortable executing that plan. 

Simultaneously, ATC is monitoring the traffic and volume of the entire National Airspace System (NAS) and airport’s the surrounding region. ATC manages flow of all aircraft in the air—including private planes, helicopters, and even space vehicles— and works to ensure flights can safety depart from and land at the airport. 

When severe weather is identified, the FAA will issue what is called a “ground stop,” which tells airlines they are required to stay on the ground until we can assure the highest level of safety. 

Q: Where can I find the most up-to-date information regarding my flight? 

A: We encourage travelers to download their carrier’s mobile app, even before heading to the airport. This is the best way to receive real-time updates about your flight and make changes to your plans. Once at the airport, be sure to listen to overhead airport announcements as well. 

Q: What are my options if my flight is impacted by severe weather this holiday season? 

A: Contact your carrier as soon as possible so they can work to get you on the next available flight. A4A passenger airlines have already announced travel waivers as forecasts predict wintry weather across the country. More information can be found on the carrier websites:

For more information on A4A member airlines’ flexible travel policies, please refer to our members’ websites.

Alaska Airlines American Airlines Delta Air Lines Hawaiian Airlines JetBlue Southwest United Airlines

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