5 tips for summer air-travel weather delays


Most travelers are used to seeing pictures on the news in winter of planes being de-iced and passengers stranded in air terminals.

It is true that a serious winter storm can shut down an airport for hours or in the very worst cases, days.

But, while summer may seem like a safer time to travel, there are a number of weather issues that can seriously impact a trip, some on a regular basis. Certain airports seem to have chronic problems.

The number one summer weather problem in my experience is thunderstorms. Especially in the Midwest, on the East Coast, and even in Southern airports like Atlanta.

Hub cities can be the worse, because the delays pile up. It’s only June and I have lost track of the number of clients who have had problems in Chicago. Even with two-hour-plus connections.

In a perfect world, thunderstorm delays would affect flights coming in and out, so a connecting flight would be delayed as well. But, this isn’t always the case.

With airlines flying mostly packed flights in the summer it can be difficult to find space for standbys, get them on their way to their connection.

Cross-country flights going east can be another especially bad problem, as the late afternoon thunderstorms can delay flights long enough to get into crew legality issues. (Flight crews can only work a certain number of hours a day, and if a flight hasn’t left the gate when they reach that limit, the airline must find a new crew.)

In addition, there are odd local summer issues. In Arizona, for example, if the tarmac gets too hot, it can be unsafe for planes to take off because the runaways are too soft. Very hot, thin air means that passengers may get bumped because it’s too hard for a full heavy plane to take off.

Out in San Francisco, my local airport, we get fog in the summer, which means with two parallel runways planes may have to circle or even divert when trying to land.

And while you can try to avoid hubs like Chicago, Dallas and Atlanta, that’s not a guarantee either. Planes are being pressed into maximum usage by airlines trying to cut costs, even a flight between cities without weather problems may be using a plane coming from a problem airport.

So what’s a traveler to do? Other than hope for a good weather day?

First, the simple truth that the less take-offs and landings, the less chance for problems. So it might be especially worth the extra cost of a nonstop.

Second, if you can, fly early in the day. Most thunderstorms are afternoon events, so your chances are improved of avoiding them.

Third, make an extra effort to only take carry-on luggage. This personally saved me hours of aggravation recently, because when you don’t need to check a bag, your standby options are greatly improved. (Not to mention you having your bag when you get home.)

Fourth, bring a good book and/or a laptop with charger. If all else fails, at least you can relax or get some work done.

Finally, if you get stuck, stay reasonably close to the gate, or within sight of a departure monitor if possible. Unlike snowstorms, thunderstorms can pass through quickly leaving no residue that has to be shoveled. So occasionally airlines get clearance to leave earlier.

And the only thing worse than waiting for a delayed flight, is seeing it leave without you.