6 clues that your flight may be canceled or not

by Janice Hough on February 11, 2010


As awful as it is when a flight is canceled due to a storm, in some cases it can be even more frustrating when a flight doesn’t show canceled and it’s nearly impossible to figure if it will fly or not. While changing weather has created chaos all week, here are a few tips to help you make a more educated guess on the most important flight of all – yours.

1. Look at other airlines. Last night JetBlue insisted all their flights would depart today from JFK to San Francisco, while most airlines would cancel their flights. Not surprisingly, late last night Jet Blue followed suit and canceled their flights as well.

2. Look at your own airline’s flights. As noted above, if most airlines are canceling flights and a carrier claims they will fly all their planes, that’s not realistic. But if they are keeping just one or two planes scheduled then they usually have some expectation of getting them aloft. Delta and American today, for example, each had ONE flight make it from JFK to San Francisco.

3. How big a plane are you booked on? If an airline is canceling some percentage of their flights due to weather, they will try to fly the biggest planes to get the most people to their destinations. Also, commuter planes are more likely to have problems flying in iffy weather.

4. Where is the plane coming from? This may show up on the airline site or your travel agent may be able to tell you. If the plane is originating in a city that also has bad weather, that is one more thing that can go wrong.

5. What time of day is the flight? Most airlines try to get the first and last flights of the day out if possible. And the first flight of the day is first in line for deicing etc.

6. International priority. If you are flying to or from an international hub, airlines prioritize flights that make the international connections because that’s where they make their money. For examples – flights arriving into JFK on Delta in the late afternoon connect to their flights to Europe, flights flying from San Francisco in the early afternoon work for Asia connections.

None of these tips for cancellation prediction are 100 percent guaranteed. Sometimes an airline will go above and beyond to try to get a flight in the air, and it just doesn’t happen. But checking for these clues will at least decrease your chances of being stranded at the airport.

And perhaps it goes without saying, if you decide to chance it with a flight that you hope actually takes off, make a serious extra effort to get there early. Not only will the same weather that delays and cancels flights make road travel more difficult, but also the sheer number of stranded passengers already at the airport means that airlines will give away reservations as soon as the rules allow.

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  • Ron

    Here’s another one. If you are sitting at the gate and you see the crew come off the plane and leave the gate area, your flight is most likely going to be delayed or cancelled. The crews get advance notice that they are not needed for that particular flight, or are needed on a more important flight.

  • Dana

    Ron is correct, but only to a point. Often the crew that brings a plane in goes to another gate and flies out in another plane. Often the Flight Attendants and Pilots come in on different flights. Key is to ask the PSA at the gate where the crews are coming from.

  • Bob Ploehn

    A very experienced airline employee reported to me this week that during this economic downturn, when there are a lot of empty seats on an international flight, the first flight is cancelled for weather-related reasons(when justified) and the passengers consolidated into a later flight. Makes sense, and she personally is involved every day in passengers on international flights.

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  • http://highonadventure.com Lynn Rosen

    Janice,
    Very cool piece with back-story, sensible info. In my experience, a chat with the scheduled out-flying pilot is most reliable clue. If the plane and/or crew needs to be in your destination city ON SKED, there’s a damned good chance of your getting there ON SKED – or near sked. Travel safe, everyone. But get there!

  • Scott

    @Bob:

    That is not as simple as it sounds. While in theory that makes sense, there are many other factors that go into it. A flight may be light in one direction, but close to capacity going the other way. Aircraft, pilots and flight attendants are all needed to fly routes out of the destination city, and if a flight is canceled then there can be repercussions around the entire system just from one cancellation.

    I have seen domestic planes of over 100+ capacity fly with as few as TWO customers on board, and international flights as long as San Francisco-Sydney on an aircraft that can seat 347 people with fewer than 100 customers still take off for its destination.

    There are so many factors that go into a cancellation that a light booking load alone is unlikely to be the reason for it.

  • http://www.InsuranceForTrips.com Adam Bates

    Great post, I would also recommend contacting a travel professional who has access to flight data. Certain travel agents have access to flight cancellations before they are posted to the public. Iphones and other smart phones with internet access allow you to check with the FAA website and find out if you flights are scheduled to be delayed or cancelled.

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