Every traveller has been made angry or helpless due to a flight delay. At the time you were more than likely tired, hungover, or an unhappy combination of the two, and you may or may not have got out your annoyed voice.
The irony of this story is that it was written while waiting for my delayed flight (due to an ill passenger) to once again push back from the gate.
But here are some of the reasons why you got delayed, and why it’s actually a good thing:
There’s nothing more odious than looking out at clear blue skies at your departure airport while being told that your flight has been delayed due to bad weather.
Most people’s initial reaction would be to call foul, but it’s not just the weather at the airports on either end of your holiday to worry about, but also what’s going on 40,000 feet up.
According to Alan Stealey, head of flight operations for Emirates, it’s not uncommon for pilots in the air to tell other pilots (irrespective of airline, of course) that there’s tricky conditions ahead. And that is of course passed on to air traffic control.
While weather may not stop the flight from actually getting airborne, it can seriously hinder the efforts of ground crew to get their job done and sometimes a short delay upon departure can actually streamline the arrival and disembarkation process. Furthermore, a short delay can actually be made up during the flight – so go and have another beer and turn off that whiney voice.
When a plane ceases to jet, there can be literally thousands of reasons why, and sorting that out and getting the requisite parts isn’t like changing out the fuse in your car. Codeshare agreements (like Qantas and Emirates) will also have a part share agreement whereby if the difference between getting a plane in the air and keeping it grounded is just a spark plug away, parts will be found in the hangars of other airlines.
If you’re lucky enough to be in Dubai when your plane needs a part, the Emirates storeroom has a 97 per cent chance of having it in their cavernous warehouse, ready to be installed.
While every plane undergoes constant checks and monitoring, including the incredibly stringent C Check that sees a plane stripped down to its nuts and bolts, issues will always arise. And getting another plane to replace the grounded one isn’t easy if all this is happening half way around the world from HQ.
Sometimes the biggest delay is us. Passengers get tired and sleep through boarding calls, board a plane unwell and then have to disembark, or lose track of time in duty free. The worst is when a passenger gets a boarding pass, checks some baggage, and then simply doesn’t show up at the gate. When this issue arises, bags have to be found and taken off the plane, causing further delays.
Airlines are trialling various ways to limit the occurrence of this, with Emirates training duty-free personnel to check boarding passes and remind passengers that takeoff is imminent.
Training aside, the simple fact is that while there are people on flights (which I’m kinda thinking always is) there will be delays that could have been caused by the guy downing scotch right next to you.
Obviously we need a couple of these to get the plane off the ground and safely back again, but pilots may occasionally cause (unintentional) delays.
What a lot of people don’t know is that pilots can fly only one type of plane – an A380 pilot can’t hop onboard a Boeing 777 and take the controls.
There are two reasons for this. First, it’s really hard to know what to do in every possible scenario on one plane, which means for one pilot to know the intricate workings of two very different operating systems would require a genius IQ. Which, in fact, leads to reason number two – regulators don’t allow it.
This means that when a pilot cannot fly due to illness or other personal reasons, another must be found. And if the closest one who can fly that type of plane is enjoying a few days off in Thailand, your flight out of Sydney isn’t going to be leaving on time.
Emirates has incredibly intricate and high-tech software to try and pre-empt the above scenario. With 4000 pilots in its stable it has a pretty good chance of speedy solutions, but the great thing about human nature is its unpredictability, meaning being speedy is not always possible.
You might be asking why can’t a plane fly itself to avoid these kinds of issues, and the answer is they can. We’re seeing it with the drones in the US military and Alan Stealey believes that pilotless cargo planes may be just around the corner.
The thing is, would you get on a plane if you knew there wasn’t anybody in the cockpit?