Flight Cancellation Due to Weather

Q: We were told our flight was canceled because of “thunderstorms in New York.” But weather reports and cell phone verification with family there revealed no such thing. Do the airlines lie to their crewmembers too, or only to their customers?

This gets back to people’s general distrust of the airlines, which I’ve talked about before. In my own experiences, however, I cannot cite a single case of an airline actually lying, either to crew or customer. I’ve heard my share of muddles and misinterpretations, but never an intended lie.

During lousy weather, mechanical breakdowns, etc., complicated information is transferred from one department to another — from, say, air traffic controller to dispatcher to crewmember to gate staff. Each of these departments is familiar with its own procedures and terminology, and almost always something is lost in the translation.

Believe it or not “thunderstorms in New York” can mean a number of things, and does not necessarily imply actual rumbles and lightning over LaGuardia. It can mean, for instance, that along the routings to New York there are serious weather buildups that flights are being forced to circumvent, resulting in delays and cancellations as the dominoes topple. This is minced into “thunderstorms in New York.”


This article is part of a collection that originally appeared on Salon.com. Patrick Smith, 38, is an erstwhile airline pilot, retired punk rocker and air travel columnist. His book, Ask the Pilot (Riverhead) was voted “Best Travel Book of 2004” by Amazon.com. Patrick has traveled to more than 55 countries and always asks for a window seat. He lives near Boston.