Summer storms can cause big problems for airlines. Most travelers assume that air traffic control makes the call when it comes to keeping a plane on the ground. However, airlines typically have some level of control when it comes to deciding which flights to cancel when storms hit. How do airlines make the call? Some flights are simply more valuable to airlines than others.
Airlines tend to cancel what they consider to be low-priority departures when storms are causing problems. High-priority flights that serve major hubs often receive preference. Of course, airlines do use information from the FAA regarding what current airspace conditions can handle.
One thing that may surprise most travelers is that a flight's scheduled departure time won't necessarily play a role in an airline's decision. Your low-priority flight to South Dakota isn't safe just because it is scheduled to depart before a flight that's headed to a major hub like New York City.
What's more, airlines will actually look at passenger lists before deciding which flights to cancel. American Airlines is one airline that will actually give preference to flights carrying elite members of its loyalty program. Flights with more paying passengers than reward passengers are also likely to get preferential treatment.
A human may not be responsible for deciding what happens to your flight if you travel during storm season. Many airlines are now using computer programs to make these types of decisions. Southwest Airlines uses a high-tech software system that helps with making decisions related to air traffic. American Airlines uses a combination of human input and software.
The bottom line is that many variables actually go into deciding which flights get grounded when storms cause delays. Airlines like American Airlines don't always give flights preference based solely on clientele. It is sometimes important for an airline to get a plane off the runway on time because that plane is scheduled to undergo maintenance in the next city. Airlines must also look down the line to see how grounding one flight will impact the entire flight roster in the days ahead.
It's almost impossible to predict if bad weather will cause an airline to cancel your specific flight. However, one thing that's for certain is that traveling to a big city in the company of high spenders will increase your odds of getting to your destination without any hiccups.
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