Well, there are a million and one reasons for why a flight could be delayed. Literally anything is possible. But here I will try to explain the most common ones we come across and how as pilots we try our best to minimise these to get you where you want to be.
”Ladies and Gentleman we have been given a slot with a take off time in an hours time.”
I’m pretty sure this is not what you want to hear when you’ve all just survived the journey through the airport, crammed onto a plane, luggage stowed away, oh no my headphones are in my bag with your seat belt on ready to be on your way to sunny Sicily.
We feel the same when these little messages of joy turn up out of our printer in the cockpit!
So what does this really mean?
A slot is exactly that, the time slot at which we are allowed to take off.
Why do we get these?
Weather - there could be some big thunderstorms enroute and in the interest of safety we are kept on the ground whilst they pass through.
Capacity - there are only so many air traffic controllers and in a sector it might be so busy that there is simply not enough room for us to takeoff when scheduled. This could also be due to controllers striking. If you fly to France a lot you may have experienced this....
Also there are only so many runways and so many airways and at busy times (just like the M25) in summer, to certain destinations it gets congested.
Slots can also go back. Ever been stuck on an aeroplane with a one hour delay that turns into two? I promise that we didn’t lie when we said it would be one! Weather may have deteriorated, airspace or airpots might be at capacity unfortunately there is nothing we can do, apart from of course invite you in to see the cockpit!
Late Inbound Aircraft
Waiting at the gate and your aircraft isn’t even here yet? Well again that could be due to a slot delay down route, but could also have been due to technical issues, baggage issues, crewing issues, passenger issues all of which we try and resolve as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Sometimes there are small technical issues that require an engineer to be called out, this could delay us from pushing back but usually these delays are only small and can be made up in flight.
If your aircraft arrives with a technical issue it could mean a last minute aircraft swap, or in summer when its incredibly busy, possibly waiting for another aircraft to arrive or even one being flown over from another base.
I’m sure in this case you would rather the delay than a technical issue!
What do we do to minimise these delays?
The best way to combat slot delays is to do everything we can to get the aircraft safe and secure and then we can put in a “ready” message. This means we are literally ready to move off stand. Air traffic can now call us back if another slot comes free or ours comes forward, meaning we get on our way sooner. This is why you are always boarded onto the aircraft. Because if the slot comes forward and are ready to go… then we can go!
All other delays, well we work through the issue as efficiently as possibly to get us away on time. Sometimes rules and restrictions only permit us to do so much. There are rules for EVERYTHING.
Keeping you guys in the loop
The most frequent complaint I have heard is not the actual delay but the lack of communication as to the reason we delayed. On all flights that I have operated, if there is some reason for a delay, the captain has when possible, made a PA to the passengers from the cabin. We try to do this as it is better than hearing a faceless voice over the pa system. Sometimes we are so busy trying to resolve the issue that coming out into the cabin isn’t possible at that time, which is why we update you from the cockpit.
Another major complaint i’ve heard is when you’re still in the airport and there are delays. Hours and hours being added onto your departure time. We as pilots, can’t do much to update you at this stage but here are my top tips to finding out whats going on.
Flight Radar App - you can track your aircraft see where it is and have a better idea of whats going on.
The Airline’s App - easyJet tell you on the app if there are delays as i’m sure most other airline’s apps do.
Take it easy - airports are stressful. There isn’t anything you can do to make this aeroplane get here quicker so, grab a coffee, read a book and find some place where you can chill and keep an eye on the departures board.
Find a lounge - if it is a really long delay it might be worth forking out for an airport lounge. Check out Lounge Buddy
Also, if the ground staff say they don’t know … they probably don’t!
As soon as we get that aircraft, the pilots and cabin crew will be doing all they can to get you on your way as quick as possible. We know it’s inconvenient and it’s stressful, and most of the time we feel exactly the same. So I ask you on behalf of all the fantastic cabin crew out there that next time your flight is delayed, don’t take it out on them, they’re doing all they can, I will endeavour to update you all I can, and we want to get home just as much as you do!