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Top 5 Reasons for Tarmac Delays

Snow ploughs work to clear snow from a gate area while planes wait.
Snow ploughs work to clear snow from a gate area while planes wait.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Though most commercial jets can operate on a rainy day, significant weather conditions produce some of the most notorious flight delays. In 2010, weather was the cause for delay or cancelation of 6.5 percent of domestic arrivals in the U.S. That's about one third of all the delays and cancelations for those flights [source: RITA].

Delays can vary based on the type of weather, the number of flights impacted and how well the airport is equipped to handle the situation. Thunderstorms and icy surfaces can stall flights for a few minutes or a couple of hours. De-icing equipment can cut that wait time in sub-freezing temperatures. Snow and the sustained winds of hurricanes can cause interruptions that are more extensive and often lead to canceled flights. This can attract a lot of media attention, too, such as when winter weather in the Midwest affected holiday plans for travelers nationwide during the high-traffic weeks of late December 2009 [source: Associated Press].

These top five reasons for tarmac delays cover most of the scenarios in which approximately 1 in 5 flights are unable to operate on time [source: RITA]. In many cases, no one reason stands alone: bad weather during a high traffic period multiplies the effect of each delay, as do security lock-downs that also prevent crews from assuming their duties on time. Since you can't always predict when these delays will happen or how long they will last, plan to have a book, music player or other preferred form of personal entertainment tucked in your carry-on bag to help you pass the time.

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