More often than not when I’m working a flight that’s delayed I spot some unhappy passengers as the news is conveyed over the PA on the plane or through the terminal. For the most part, that reaction is truly unwarranted. In the airline industry when a flight is delayed is usually means that something is wrong, somewhere. Generally, you’re delayed because the airline cannot get you to your destination safely at the present moment, but is working through the issue.
There are various types of delays and each one comes with its own set of issues and problems and sometimes the fix is out of the airlines control and all you can do is sit and wait.
Mechanical Delay. This is an easy one. The plane has a mechanical issue that needs to be resolved before it can safely become airborne. Now a days, airplanes fly themselves so mechanical delays can be caused by a physical piece of the airplane, a discrepancy in the cabin which the F.A.A. requires to be fixed before flight or a computer malfunction. Computers power almost all of the newer aircraft out there today. An error message in the flight deck can easily cause a delay depending on what error and what section of the aircraft it’s referencing. I once had a mechanical in which a passenger asked me: “couldn’t they have found this before? Why now?” to which my simple answer to explain the situation was: “It’s like your computer at home.. It starts up.. It moves.. But once it gets going.. You get that ‘Illegal Operation’ message and the whole thing shuts down. Sometimes you don’t find a problem until you’re underway.” If you’re lucky though, the delay will be found at the gate and you can comfortably await a fix while in the terminal. However, a mechanical delay doesn’t reflect poorly on an airlines safety record and the news of the delay should be taken in stride. They’re ensuring the aircraft is operational so you get there safely. Isn’t that reason not to complain?
“Flow Control,” “ATC Delay,” or “Ground Delay Program (GDP”) This is a delay which rattles my nerves all the time, and I know what causes it. A “GDP” goes into effect when an airport is congested usually due to weather. When weather strikes an airport the rate of arriving aircraft has to be decreased to ensure each of them have ample time to safely descend and clear the runway. When you decrease the rate of arrivals, aircraft stay airborne longer “holding” until it’s their time to land. Well, those aircraft headed to this destination whom have not yet left their departure airport are put on a “GDP” and held on the ground until a pre-determined time (set by Air Traffic Control, not the airline) where it can safely take-off, hold if they need to (with ample fuel) and land safely. These delays are frustrating for everyone, including flight attendants because we’re not paid for this extra time on the ground even though we’re “working.” Sometimes if the delay is issued far enough in advance you will be notified in the terminal but it the GDP issuance can also occur after boarding in which case you may be asked to deplane or, if the delay isn’t that long, they will close the door and push back so that the flight crew can begin getting paid. These delays are not fixable by the airline.
Catering Delay. You have to have water right? Well most airlines contract their catering out to other vendors such as LSG SkyChefs or GateGourmet and these companies cater for more than one flight leaving at almost the same time. On occasion it does happen were the flight is boarded and ready to push away but they’re holding for the catering truck to deliver supplies to the flight attendants so that they can deliver a beverage and food service to you.
Crew Rest Delay. This delay usually ends with passengers saying to me: “Did you get enough sleep?” Flight Attendants and pilots are required to have a minimum of 8 hours on the ground “resting” every night. Mind you, “resting” is in quotes because the literal meaning of “rest” is not being used. The way the regulation is written flight crewmembers just require 8 hours from the time the plane blocks in the night before until the time the plane pushes back the next day. That’s our “rest.” Sometimes though GDP’s and mechanical delays will delay our arrival into a city long enough that it decreased our rest time under the 8 hour limit. At that point, the flight we work out the next morning is put on a “crew rest delay” to account for the extra time we are required to have on the ground. Passengers don’t usually understand this delay and make remarks to flight crew about how little sleep they themselves had the night before but they still managed to show up on time. Please realize if this happens to you, you’re not delayed because the crew wanted to sleep in, you’re delayed because the F.A.A. requires them to be on the ground for 8 hours after a duty period.
Gate Hold. This delay is different than a GDP. Gate holds are issued when the traffic on the taxiways at an airport begins to build and becomes jammed. This usually occurs at airports with many international flights and domestic flights all scheduled around the same time. The hold just means that a plane cannot push back from the gate until an air traffic control operator in the tower clears the plane to do so. These delays usually don’t go over 30-40 minutes, but bad weather can extend these delays.
Now that I’ve given you a quick “behind the scenes” of some of the more common delays, I’m curious to find out what delays you’ve encountered during your travels. How was the delay explained and how was the news received? If you encountered a delay and you’re confused at what it meant feel free to post a comment below and I’ll explain it the best I can!
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