I’m sure by now almost everyone has heard about the current severe flooding in Queensland, the North-Eastern Australian state with the capital Brisbane. Prolonged heavy rainfall over the past month or so has led to a catastrophic situation in much of the state and to the North of its bordering neighbour state, New South Wales. This event is widely attributed to the effect of “La Niña“, a coupled ocean-atmosphere phenomenon that is the counterpart of “El Niño” which brought drought to the same areas previously.
La Niña, however, isn’t the only ecological hazard and Australia is not the only affected country. Other unusual weather patterns, such as the severe winter weather across Europe in December or masses of snow from Boston to New York and Atlanta more recently are other indicators that these events seem to increase in frequency and severity.
So what do these events mean for you as traveller? There are 3 main impacts you should be aware of:
- Direct flight delays
The first and most obvious impact is that there will be more direct delays to flights. Heavier snow falls mean more frequent clearings of the runway which delays arrival and departure patterns, meaning flights can’t take-off and land in the usual cadence. This will lead to delays and in some cases cancellations.
While airports are usually prepared for clearing snow, floods are a whole different problem. In the case of the Queensland floods some airports like Rockhampton Airport had to close all together, others like the state capital’s Brisbane Airport (IATA: BNE) issue frequent media bulletins regarding their operational status. Make sure you check these sites before you travel and consider alternative plans.
- Indirect flight delays
Often times flight delays occur even though the airport operates as normal. This can be due to the case of people having difficulties getting to the airport. Floods and rain can cause roads to be closed and are therefore making it difficult, if not impossible, for passengers reaching the airport. A “good” example, again, is Brisbane, where the airport is currently still operating as normal, but many road closures surrounding the city impact travels to and from the airport (see their media release of today). In this case, it’s suggested you check the airports website and plan your route and time accordingly. But even getting to the airport in time doesn’t mean your flight is going to leave on time. Airport workers and airline crew also have to get to the airport and if their route is impacted, it’s likely that your flight will be delayed despite of all passengers being there.
- Knock-on effects
Strictly speaking, knock-on effects can be categorized as indirect flight delays, but since they are often neglected or forgotten, a separate point is probably justified (plus 3 bullet points are so much nicer than just 2 ;-)). As the word suggests, knock-0n effects are secondary effects. In the snow example this could mean that even when you fly from an area that is not impacted by say heavy snow (i.e. San Francisco), your flight can still be delayed BECAUSE of the snow elsewhere. This typically happens when the inbound aircraft receives a delay on the previous leg to/from an affected area or when crew delayed from other flights from impacted regions.
Another fairly common knock-on effect is when your flight gets cancelled because of a delay impacting an airports’ operations curfew. Such curfews are in place in many airports in Europe (e.g. London or Zurich) and Australia (e.g. Sydney) have an operations curfew, which means they cannot operate between certain times. In a recent case flights from Melbourne to Sydney were cancelled altogether because the flight would have landed within the curfew. There’s not much you can do here other than checking if your arrival airport does have a curfew or not in order to estimate your chance of being able to fly that day altogether.
Let us know your experiences and any other tips you may have with severe weather delays. As always, LateDeparture suggests whenever you occur flight delays, stay calm, enjoy the lounge access (if you have one) or think of other creative ways of passing your time at the airport (for that, check our coverage on many airports around the world).