Crazy rain outside but airline says flight is on time

What happens when it’s storming like mad outside but your flight still says it’s on time? Reader E asks…plane rain

I took a business trip to Chicago last week. The radar showed a large band of heavy rain moving through starting two hours before my departure. About ten minutes before I left it started pouring like crazy, with thunder and lightning. When I checked my flight status, it still showed on time. It seemed impossible that the flight would leave when it was supposed to! The airport website showed a 45 minute delay, but I went ahead to the airport anyway. My flight ended up being about 20 minutes delayed. Are there other ways to find out more accurately what’s happening?

You raise a really good question. Sometimes it seems like the rain is so bad there is no way a flight can leave on time, but it does. Other times it seems like the weather isn’t bad at all, and a flight is delayed for hours. A few weeks ago I was taking a flight from Chicago to Boston. We were all boarded, with the door shut, ready to go, when the tower shut down the runway due to weather. It didn’t start raining for several minutes, but once it started it was nuts. We sat on the plane, at the gate, for two and a half hours waiting for the rain to pass. My point is that it doesn’t matter what we, the passengers, think of the weather—it matters what air traffic control thinks. I’m not going to say they never make poor decisions, but they know far more about flying safely during storms than the rest of us.

To add to the confusion, a flight isn’t technically considered delayed until it’s more than 15 minutes late. But to answer your question, there are several ways to find out more about the status of your flight than just the airline website. Here are some options:

  • Use the Flight Aware app or website to track the incoming plane. For most airlines this is a great way to get the bigger picture around your departure time, although it doesn’t appear to be available for Southwest.
  • Call the airline directly. Sometimes customer service reps have more insight into why certain flights are delayed and what the realistic departure time is.
  • Your local airport website (which Reader E used) is a great place to find out if there are a lot of delays due to weather.
  • The Department of Transportation has a resource for coping with delays here.

Ultimately, while it is frustrating to head to the airport knowing that you’re likely facing a delay, it’s the safest thing to do. It’s better to sit for a little while than miss your flight altogether!

Readers, what do you do when the weather is terrible but a flight shows as on time?

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