By Sera Madrigrano
Frequent fliers know that bad weather is responsible for the overwhelming majority of flight delays and cancellations. While winter blizzards may make headlines for shutting down airports, it’s actually summer storms that cause the majority of weather-related delays.
Why are summer storms worse than winter ones?
Summer storms can develop quickly, stretch for hundreds of miles and rise up 60,000 feet or more travelling quickly over large portions of the earth. They are often frequent and intense, and can bring flight operations to a standstill if severe enough.
Once flights start getting delayed, it causes a domino effect of even more delayed flights across several airports. As a traveller you should be aware that if flights are delayed in the morning due to weather, afternoon and evening flights may also be affected, even if the storm subsides.
One of the largest problems with summer storms, especially thunderstorms, is the danger for ground crews working in and around the airplanes. Combine standing water, metal aircraft and lightning, and you have some serious safety concerns. Clearing the tarmac of employees in order to ensure their well-being is one reason why flights can be delayed.
Why do pilots avoid thunderstorms?
Pilots are trained to avoid thunderstorms if they are able and will make the decision whether or not to take-off when a storm is brewing or passing through. Storms are avoided for many reasons. Commercial flights generally avoid flying near storms and operate within a recommended distance from active weather around them. Pilots and air traffic control centres communicate with each other regarding turbulence and bad weather so that flight routes can be altered for the comfort of passengers.
Sometimes these detours can delay flight arrival and departure times, but delays are much better than flying through uncomfortable storm-related turbulence. If turbulence is unavoidable, the flight crew will warn passengers. No one enjoys a bumpy ride, but contrary to the belief of fearful fliers, turbulence is no more dangerous than driving down a bumpy road. It is uncomfortable but will not damage the aircraft, and passengers and crew are safe as long as they remain seated with their seatbelts on.
While poor weather conditions can often be avoided during flight, unfortunately, it is not so easily avoided when landing or taking off. If the conditions are unsuitable, pilots will not attempt either, and flights will be diverted or delayed. Since storms can be unpredictable, pilots always err on the side of caution; however, storms must be severe for operations to shut down.
What happens if the plane gets hit by lightning in the air?
According to the Scientific American, planes receive a rigorous set of lightning certification tests to ensure their safety.
passengers and crew may see a flash and hear a loud noise if lightning strikes their aircraft, or they may not even know that it has happened. The current will travel through the plane’s conductive exterior skin and structures and exit off another extremity, such as the tail. Aircrafts also have shielding, grounding and surge suppression devices on board to protect on board computers and instruments from any indirect effects. The fuel system is protected by extra thick skin around the fuel tanks, and all aspects of the aircraft’s fuel system are designed and tested to withstand lightning. Planes today are well protected against lightning strikes are unlikely to affect your travel.
Tips for flight delays or cancellations
If you think your flight may be delayed or cancelled, contact your airline immediately. You can also check your carrier’s and airport’s websites and Twitter for information about delayed flights.
Should a delay cause you to possibly miss a connecting flight, contact the airline as soon as possible; this will increase the probability of getting you on the next available flight. After all, most flights are heavily booked in the summer, and the first to change their itinerary will be the first to benefit from any empty seats. The best way to avoid problems with connections is to ensure that there is at least an hour between domestic flights and four hours between connecting international flights.
Summer storms are just part of life, but rest assured that safety always comes first. It is wise to remember this when having to deal with unwanted delays.