17.02.2020

Why do flights get cancelled? 7 top reasons

The number of air passengers in Europe is growing year by year. If we look at the data, it's more that clear that the existing airport capacity fails to match the growth already now. But that means that in the future we can expect even more flight disruptions. More flights are going to be delayed or cancelled. More passengers will have to experience that. By 2040 the total number of disrupted flights is expected to be 9 times bigger than it is now, a report by Eurocontrol has warned.

9 times more bad flights than now. Let that sink in for a moment. That’s a lot.

Ok, that’s predictions, but what’s the situation right now?

It is getting worse. Flight delays have doubled in Germany in 2018.

Why do flights get cancelled? What are other reasons apart from airport capacity problems? Let’s look at the most popular reasons, and if you are eligible to flight compensation of any sort in these situations.

Wizzair aircraft - Flight is cancelled

Why do flights get cancelled

1. Severe weather

At the departure airport, on the way or at the destination.

The single most important thing to understand here is that your flight may get delayed or cancelled due to bad weather even if it’s a perfect weather outside the window. And you may be even thinking why is my flight cancelled, if the weather is so nice? But that’s because the airline looks at the whole journey and makes sure that there isn’t something along the way that could endanger the plane, crew or passengers.

Severe weather conditions include, but aren’t limited to thunderstorm, hurricane, blizzard, heavy fog conditions.

Flights also get cancelled due to seismic activity and tsunamis.

Since it’s something out of the airline’s control, you can’t get compensation.

These kind of situations are called extraordinary circumstances.

2. Technical problems

Aircrafts are being checked before every flight.

If during the pre-flight inspection engineers find that it isn’t safe for the particular aircraft to fly, it has to be repaired. Repairs take time.

At first your flight may get delayed once or twice, and then - cancelled.

Or it may get cancelled right away.

Aircraft technical issues don't fall under the term “extraordinary circumstances” and isn't considered something out of airline’s control. Quite the opposite — in most situations it’s considered airline’s fault and you can get compensation.

The same applies to technical problems related to computer systems.

Let’s assume there is a glitch in the computer system.

When computer systems fail, airport’s flight schedule may be affected and as a result many flights may get cancelled. If the glitch is the responsibility of the airline, mostly you will be entitled to flight cancellation compensation.

On the airplane

3. Security issues

Civil unrest, terror attack and other serious causes.

All of that can cause serious harm to passengers and airport visitors.

It is crucial to save the lives of people. So, when the security personnel find out that something is possibly wrong, according security measures will be applied.

For example, a stray piece of luggage was loaded on your plane. The personnel will demand it being unloaded and your flight may get delayed or even cancelled in some cases.

If your flight is cancelled due to security issues, you can’t get compensation.

Security reasons are listed as extraordinary circumstances under the EU law.

4. Airport congestion and air traffic restrictions

Your flight also may be delayed due to congestion at the airport.

At many of the world’s airports planes can leave only at an allocated time. This time is called time slot. If the airline misses their slot, in some situations there might be no any free slots available for hours on end. And air traffic controllers may request an airline to cancel their flight after that flight was delayed and the take-off was postponed many times due to lack of available time slots in the airport's departing schedule.

People on a strike

5. Employee strikes

One of the top reasons why flights get cancelled in Europe.

Airport and airline employee strikes is one of the top reasons why flights get cancelled and delayed in Europe. 

We can divide them into two categories:

  • Wildcat striks — an unplanned and unannounced strike.
  • Announced strike — a strike that was planned a few weeks or even months in advance.

The main difference between these two is whether you get compensation, or not.

If it’s a wildcat strike of the airline’s employees, you may get compensation.

This is the airline’s fault its employees are protesting.

An airline is responsible for creating a favourable working environment for their employees.

If it’s an announced strike, mostly you can’t get a compensation.

6. No aircraft available

This sounds very weird but it happens.

Not because an aircraft gets stolen but because it’s just unavailable.

An aircraft may be unavailable:

  • Due to a cancelled or delayed flight at another airport.
  • Due to mechanical problems, and because the particular aircraft has to be repaired.
  • Because it has to be used for another flight.

Can you get a compensation when that happens? Yes.

The airline is responsible for providing an aircraft for each flight.

7. Not having the necessary crew

Yes, this also happens.

Do airlines forget to prepare a crew for its flight? No, but sometimes cabin crew members and pilots are not allowed to fly anymore, just because they have reached the limit. Yes, there is a limit for how many hours a pilot and cabin crew can work in a day.

People may also call in sick, and there may not be an available replacement.

Or, if the crew is considered “unfit to fly”. This could be anything — injuries, sickness, mental health issues, or even drunkenness.

Can you get a compensation when that happens? Yes.

Because, again, it’s the airline’s responsibilty. The airline is responsible for organising crew shifts in a way that guarantees the availability of crew for each flight.

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See the Eurocontrol report here

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