The Air Up There Podcast
It’s Sunny. Why is My Flight Delayed?

Season 5, Episode 5

Your alarm clock just went off and you’re rushing out the door to catch your flight. You check the weather and the flying conditions are perfect where you are – it’s about to be a great day. Yet, you check your airline reservation and… your flight is delayed? Why?

Tune into our latest podcast episode, “It’s Sunny. Why is My Flight Delayed?” to discover why your flight might be delayed at your departure airport even when the weather seems fine. Plus, learn what rights you have as an airline consumer when weather is the cause of your flight delay or cancellation. 

USA Today's weather expert, Doyle Rice, provides tips for what you can do when booking your flight to avoid weather-related flight delays. And Blane Workie, Assistant General Counsel from the Department of Transportation's Office of Consumer Protection, has information about your consumer rights, airline guarantees, when to file a consumer complaint, and how the department uses that information to improve your flying experience.

While you can’t control Mother Nature, you can take steps to minimize her potential impact on your travel plans. Remember, stay informed, plan ahead, and know your rights as a consumer. Share this episode with friends, family, and colleagues so they, too, can know what to do when bad weather strikes.  


Aircraft waiting on runway
It’s Sunny. Why is My Flight Delayed?
Audio file

Sound Effect: fuzzy tv channel

Weather person: Could be a couple of strong storms to make things just a little bit miserable. 

Weather person 2: A tornado near Lakeland. 

Weather person 3: Pilots, before you take off, get that detailed weather briefing and stay tuned. Still to come, your spring weather update.

Lucy Voiceover: Welcome to the Air Up There. A podcast about the wide world of aerospace. Presented by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Tammy Jones: Hello and thanks for listening. I’m your host Tammy Jones. On this episode we’ll be talking with USA Today’s weather expert, Doyle Rice, about how weather can impact air travel. Why do flights get delayed when the weather seems fine at your departure airport? 

And Blane Workie from the Department of Transportation’s Office of Consumer Protection will be joining us later. She’s going to make sure you know your rights as a consumer when weather delays put a dent in your air travel plans.  

I'm excited to have Doyle Rice with us for this episode to share his wealth of knowledge on weather and climate. Doyle you've been writing for USA Today since 2004, writing about weather, climate change, the environment, space and science. You were also the weather editor for Weather Wise magazine or managing editor I should say.

Doyle Rice: Hi, thank you very much. I appreciate the opportunity to be here today. Looking forward to talking with you about weather and how it affects air travel.

Tammy Jones: So, you have this vast knowledge of weather and flying. So, we're thinking maybe you can share some of the tricks of the trade to help passengers make smarter decisions as they plan their trips. So, we can start with weather that happens in the spring, summer, and then maybe touch on some of what happens in the winter. We hear a lot of people talk about convective weather. So, what's convective weather? And how does that affect passengers? 

Doyle Rice: Convection is just a fancy term meteorologists use to describe thunderstorms. That's kind of the process by which thunderstorms form. And thunderstorms are probably the most significant factor in spring and summer air travel because pilots cannot fly into thunderstorms. They have to fly around them and if a thunderstorm is directly over an airport, then you simply cannot land the airplane at that destination. So, these kinds of storms, which are very common across the US, at any given time, there can be hundreds of thunderstorms billowing up across the country. So, it's definitely best to avoid traveling when thunderstorms are forecast. 

Tammy Jones: So, you know, you're at your departure airport, it's sunny outside, and you're thinking the airline just told me that my flight is delayed and it's delayed for hours. What gives? It’s sunny here? 

Doyle Rice: Yeah, it's probably more than likely due to bad weather at the destination airport. Yeah, you could be in, you know, hundreds of miles away from where the bad weather is and that can affect your flight. In general thunderstorms tend to bubble up and develop in the mid to late afternoon hours during the summer as the heating of the atmosphere takes place. So, typically a thunderstorm are most common, let's say three till around 8 p.m. So, if there's a way that people can book their flights for the morning hours or midday hours, that is definitely a tip that I would give air travelers in the summer. That afternoon flights can be a lot more impacted by thunderstorms than morning flights, which isn't to say there could be storms in the morning as well, but they are more common in the afternoon. 

Tammy Jones: Yeah, that's a great tip. Yeah, to book your flight as early as possible. And to even try to fly a day or two in advance because you just never know what can happen.  

Doyle Rice: Yeah, you never know and its preparation and just being aware of the fact that weather is going to be a factor in these in your flying plans. That even on a clear day, as I said, it depends on where the storms are at your destination that could snarl your plans. 

Tammy Jones:  So, summer is most severe. We have the most severe weather, rather. And then we also have weather during winter. But that type of weather in winter, which is predictable, will have a huge impact on airports. 

Doyle Rice: Yeah, I mean, if you got a big blizzard that's affecting a major city, such as New York or Chicago. Wintertime storms can literally close an airport for, if not hours, perhaps maybe even a day that they can shut down. So, you have to plan for that in the winter, that you'd have to kind of build in the idea that you're going to get stuck because planes can't fly in when there's snow on the runways, they have to spend time clearing the runways and spend time clearing the planes of ice and snow. So, winter can be equally problematic for air travelers as summer. 

Tammy Jones: So, if I'm a passenger, and I really don't know a lot about aviation, and I'm looking at this big sky, and I'm thinking, really, you can't get us out? What we want people to understand is that even though you have this big sky, there's still a route that must be followed. Just like you have to follow the rules of the road, you have to follow the rules of the sky. 

Doyle Rice: Yeah, that's absolutely right there. I mean, just like there's roads on the ground, there's air lanes up in the sky, that the pilot has some freedom to move a little bit outside those lanes, but in general, they have a pretty specific path they need to fly for fuel and for keeping on time with the flight. 

Tammy Jones: What about some other options for passengers? Should they check with airlines in advance of booking to see if it's a particular airline that would help them with cancellations or...

Doyle Rice: Yeah, frequent fliers will hopefully spend time getting used to a particular airline. And if they're comfortable, and they've had good experience with that particular airline, and understand that airline’s rebooking and cancellation policy, stick with that airline, and that'll help in case of a delay or cancellation, the passenger can be confident that that airline is going to do everything in their power to make sure they get to their destination as soon as possible.

Tammy Jones: Anything else that you'd like to leave us with? 

Doyle Rice: Just when you're packing your bag, pack patience along with it. People in cars have to deal with traffic. People who fly have to deal with delays and it’s just kind of part of the traveling experience now. So, pack patience and be aware that you might have a delay.

Tammy Jones: That was Doyle Rice from USA Today. I loved that tip he offered about booking flights earlier in the day because thunderstorms are more likely to form in the afternoon. And – Doyle offers pack your patience. Well, that’s great advice as well.

But, as we know, some things are just out of our control. So, what happens when weather causes significant flight delays during our trips? What should we do and what should the airline do to help us? Our next guest is here to help us understand what our rights are as consumers when weather causes our flights to be delayed. 

Tammy Jones: I think more than any other office at the Department of Transportation airline consumers want to hear from our next guest, the information that she has to share. Welcome Blane Workie. 

Blane Workie: Hi, how are you? Thank you for having me. Good to be here today. 

Tammy Jones: So, you’re assistant general counsel for the Office of Consumer Protection at DOT. And airline passengers who are aware of your office are probably keeping you very busy, but many passengers don’t know that DOT handles consumer issues. Blane, can you tell us about DOT’s role when dealing with consumers?

Blane Workie: Sure, our role and mission is very simple. It is to ensure that air travelers are treated fairly by airlines and travel agents. And really to carry out this mission, one of the most important tasks that we have is to review and respond to air travel service complaints. And just to give you an idea, we received over 100,000 air travel service complaints in 2020 and nearly 50,000 the following year. And just last year, we received over 75,000 consumer complaints. So, that’s certainly keeping us very busy. But we also do other things. We monitor compliance. We conduct investigations and we take enforcement action as appropriate for violations of aviation consumer protection and civil rights requirements. 

Tammy Jones: And speaking of consumer protection, you’ve probably been getting lots of emails lately from passengers complaining about canceled flights due to weather and not getting compensated. When is the airline accountable for flight disruptions?

Blane Workie: Well, the department has made very clear to airlines that they are required to provide a refund if the passenger no longer wishes to travel after a flight is canceled or significantly delayed, regardless of the reason for the delay or cancellation including weather. 

Tammy Jones: How do we make sure that the airlines are compliant?

Blane Workie: Well, the department has successfully secured enforceable agreements from the large US airlines that account for, I don't know something like 96-97% of the domestic traffic to provide free rebooking, to guarantee meals, to provide hotels or reimburse for hotels. But this is in situations where the airline is responsible for the cancellation or significant delay. And in those instances, if weather is an issue, then the airline has not promised to provide that free rebooking or the guaranteed meals or the hotel. But if it is, again, within their control, they have promised to provide those services and the department will hold them accountable. 

Tammy Jones: So, would you suggest that passengers if they are in a situation where they are delayed or canceled due to weather, should they just go on their airline’s website? 

Blane Workie: No, that's a very good question. Because I think it is true that when there is a delay or cancellation, consumers may not know what the actual cause is. So, there are two things I would say. One is regardless again of because of the cause of a delay or cancellation, including if it's weather, the airline is required to provide a refund if a passenger no longer wishes to travel. Secondly, I will say if the passenger doesn't know what the cause of a delay or cancellation is, they should still go to the airline and talk to the airline, you know the gate agent, to see if the airline’s going to be providing free rebooking or guaranteed meals or hotel vouchers. Because even when it is a controllable delay or cancellation, an airline may not provide those kinds of accommodations unless it is requested. But if a consumer is really looking for information on what sort of promises that an airline has made. They can go to And that website has information on whether airlines have promised to provide meals, hotels, rebooking and compensation.

Tammy Jones: Okay, that's very helpful and we also suggest to go to fly, F-L-Y, It tells you what's actually happening in the Airspace System at the moment that you check. Is there other advice that you might be able to provide consumers or either you know other helpful, useful information?

Blane Workie: If you run into a problem, you should file a complaint to the airline. And if the airline is not helpful in resolving your problem, then you should file a complaint with DOT. And it's really easy to file a complaint with DOT. I mean, you can do something as easy as just go on Google and type DOT airline complaint, and it will take you straight to our complaint form.

Tammy Jones: So, Blane, when a passenger does file a complaint with DOT. What do you do with that information?

Blane Workie: Well, the first thing is that every single complaint that the department receives is referred to the airline for action. And if it is an area that is regulated, we require the airline to provide us information on how they have addressed that complaint, so that we can determine whether they did so correctly or not. And the refund orders that we had issued against airlines those were really a result of the complaints that we received. The complaints let us know which airlines had problematic practices and we are able to hold those airlines accountable.

That's great Blane. I think you're probably shared the most important information that consumers want to hear as they plan their vacations or any other trips that they have. So great. Thank you so much for joining us and fly safe. 

Blane Workie: Thank you.

FAA Vapes PSA: Whether you call it a stick, a vape, or an e-cig – when it’s time to fly - turn it off and keep it in your pocket or carry-on luggage. Do not put your electronic cigarette in your checked bags. Just like regular cigarettes, you are not allowed to use electronic cigarettes in an aircraft. You are also not allowed to charge your electronic cigarette in an aircraft. Why? Your e-cigarette includes a lithium-battery or heating element that could overheat or cause a fire. So, next time you fly with an e-cigarette, turn it off, keep it with you in the cabin, and do not use or charge it during the flight. Learn how to keep yourself and your fellow passengers safe at

Tammy Jones: Thank you for joining us! We hope this information is helpful for planning your next flight. While you can’t control the weather, you can control your travel plans. So, make sure you plan for the possibility of weather delays. Try to book your summer flights early in the morning to give yourself the best shot at avoiding thunderstorms. And if your flight is delayed, well, talk to your airline to see what they can do to help you. If needed, do know that you can always file a consumer complaint with DOT.

If you liked this episode, leave a review to let us know – and, share it with someone you know. Don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast so you don’t miss out on upcoming episodes. Thank you for listening.  

Lucy Voiceover: The Air Up There is a production of the Federal Aviation Administration. For a transcript of this episode and to follow us on social media for the latest aviation safety news and guidance, visit That’s

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