Airlines Not Being Entirely Honest About Delays & Cancellations

Yesterday Chris Elliott, a noted consumer advocate and travel blogger … who you should all be reading … wrote a blog post entitled ‘Are airlines bending the truth about weather delays?’, which got me thinking about all my delayed and canceled flights.


I’m not going to go into the rules surrounding passenger compensation, or lack there of, for delays and cancellations and the implications of airlines changing the official reason for these events, as suggested, you should read Chris’ post ‘Are airlines bending the truth about weather delays?’, for that.


What I am going into are two instances Chris’ post reminded me of where airlines blamed a flight delay and flight cancellation on weather when in reality it was apparent weather was not involved.   Both situations left me frustrated at the time, but now looking back I find myself laughing over the absurdity of airlines blaming the situations on weather


The cancellation instance involved a United Express Flight, operated by SkyWest, flying from San Francisco to Sacramento. The flight kept being delayed when the gate agent announced the flight was cancelled due to weather.  After a few moments I found out the inbound aircraft was arriving from Santa Barbara and that the aircraft was on the ground at the airport there. Another quick check of the weather between Santa Barbara and San Francisco for the previous day and the weather for the coming 12 hours, showed clear skies, no turbulence and unlimited visibility. When I presented this information to the Gate Agent and asked how the cancellation was weather related they excused themselves and called the police saying I was looking and ‘sensitive information.’ The police came, I showed them the info I had from public online sites for tracking aircraft and the weather available publicly from NOAA’s National Weather Service. The officers apologized for the inconvenience and left.


This left me really annoyed with the SkyWest gate agent. I started to call United’s corporate communications folks to ask them to comment on being blatantly lied to by United Express staff, in front of the staff, and what a surprise I was magically placed on another flight to Sacramento leaving a few moments later and handed a voucher for a free round trip flight.


If the gate agents were going to claim “weather” they should have spent 30 seconds to find out if that reason was plausible.  Why the aircraft never made it to San Francisco I have no idea.


The second situation, which really makes me laugh, goes back to the days of Northwest Airlines. While waiting for a flight from New York’s JFK to San Francisco, via Minneapolis, I was seated facing a window overlooking the Boeing 757 at our departure gate, when two mechanics showed up, popped open the starboard side engine cowling and began working on the engine. The mechanics began replacing hoses, and inspecting the engine with flashlights.  As the mechanics worked on the engine, in plain view of everyone waiting to board the flight, the gate agent keyed up the microphone for the public address system and announced that our flight was going to be significantly delayed due to weather.


Airlines can blame many things on weather, even when weather is not involved, and reasonably expect to get away with that excuse … however … when two mechanics have an engine cowling open and are replacing parts of the engine in full view of all the passengers waiting to board the flight, it is just brazen for an airline gate agent to try and blame the delay on weather.   Mechanics worked on the engine, at the gate, for roughly three hours. We boarded the flight around thirty minutes after the mechanics closed up the engine and disappeared from view.


I am sure some of you have some funny, or at least frustrating, stories of airlines being less that transparent (lying right to your face) with delays and cancellations. I’d love to hear your stories.


Happy Flying!




  1. When airlines claim “weather,” it protects them against compensating passengers as it is an act of God. Another in the fine customer service model of US airlines.

  2. If you ask anyone you know who has worked a counter at an airport for airline, they will tell you airlines lie about weather all of the time. This has been happening for decades.

  3. I suspect some of the statements about weather started out, at least, as a white lie. Some passengers don’t like hearing that the plane they are about to fly on has broken down, so a white lie about weather is fairly harmless and doesn’t concern anyone. The problem only comes when they can wriggle out of compensation by lying about the reasons for a delay. But then that’s fraud and should be imprisonable.

  4. More likely is that the information the agent was reading from the system (as input by airline operations) said the delay was due to weather. I have seen airlines use a weather delay in reference to weather that occured in one or two stations upline from my location, but it is unlikely that the carrier would want to leave the aircraft off the planned routing for the day or that gate agents would blatantly lie to passengers about the reason for a delay.

  5. This happened to me 2 years ago from LHR to DFW. We were late because of the delay leaving LHR and we missed the connection going to DFW from ORD; therefore, we had to stay at a hotel overnight. AA would not compensate us for the hotel, because they said the delay out of LHR was ‘weather’ related. It wasn’t weather related at all.

  6. I think this happened to me the other day. It’s a tough call because there was a blizzard coming but our flight was scheduled to leave ahead of the weather. At first I heard an agent tell someone that the plane was getting de-iced (it was a sunny 50 degrees outside) then as the delayed continued for another hour or so we missed our window with the weather and our flight was canceled. Tough call but I can’t help but feel if we had left on time we weather would not have been an issue.

  7. Sometimes, there is weather from an inbound aircraft or crew, or other less-obvious reasons. However, as you say, sometimes it is a lie. I wish a lot of this stuff was more transparent to the passengers as it does affect compensation and rebooking. The DOT/FAA regulates so much, but in this critical experience area, there is little recourse for consumers to get information or dispute the blatantly false statements of employees. Airline employees sadly hide behind the “security” line far too often, and have no consequences for crying wolf.

  8. Basically, we should just remove the act of God clause in its entirety.

    Airlines (and insurance companies, etc.) rather than individuals should be compelled to take the risk that their profit margins may collapse because of the weather.

    Basically when it comes to corporations versus individuals, good and fair legislation should always, without exception, be in favour of the individual.

  9. We had a Delta connection from MSP to home. We arrived at the gate 10 minutes before departure(plane from LAS was 45 min. late). The plane had already been pushed back from the gate. We had friends that had taken a bump from a earlier flight and were on standby for this flight. They texted us from the plane thanking us for our seats. They new which seats we had on this flight. We asked the agent why the plane was leaving 10 min. early and she just said they were ready? So much for running from one flight to another.

  10. I just wanted to point out in SFO all of the customer service reps are United employees, not SkyWest. SkyWest lost the contract to handle above wing about two years ago. They only handle the ramp functions now.

  11. Oh boy…where to start. UNITED is the worst airlines I have ever come in contact with. I was flying from Oregon to San Fran; with a connect flight in Denver, on home to Kentucky. Originally, I was to first fly to Portland on a “puddle jumper”, but that flight was cancelled and I was rerouted without any input on my end, in regards to connect times, and failed to let anyone know it was cancelled online. showed up at 4:30 am for a 6am flight that was cancelled. Rebooked to leave from SanFran at 10 that morning. Arrived on time in San Fran. Here’s the kicker..I know airlines lie as I fly a lot, but i overheard them saying that on a 5pm flight out of San Fran, they had neglected to book an entire crew! They blamed the delay on maintenance as we could clearly see the plane was there. an entire crew! No one was offered compensation, had to stay overnight, and try to catch a 6am flight in the morning to Denver. May I also mention I was in need of and requested wheelchair assistance every step of this journey and NEVER received it. Asking for help just got me pushed onto the next person to ask for help. So I stayed up all night so I wouldn’t miss my flight and off to Denver we went after a 2 hour delay. We arrived late in Denver and no further flights were leaving or Louisville, Ky until the next day. Stuck again; this time in Denver. The airport paid for a hotel but it had no ice, no vending machines, no restaurant on sight. They gave me my room key, as I walked in; the room was occupied. That night, there was a blizzard in Colorado. Stuck in Denver again; again without food compensation, wheelchair assistance, vouchers for food or lodging. I could not see outside, I had no clothes for two days and needless to say I was not dressed for the weather. I stayed in Denver two more additional days due to the blizzard…mind you same clothes, no shampoo (none provided by hotel either), nothing. I was booked, in total, three days later on a late evening flight out of Denver to Kentucky. It was delayed 2.5 hours due to maintenance. Comforting. That was just the way there; I don’t have it in me to write about the way back. I am, needless to say, never flying United again. The kicker was, my suitcases reached home way before I did. They sat at the airport in some unknown location. Had to return to airport to pick up luggage vs them delivering it..and they broke, completely, the handle on my brand new suitcase. I have written UNITED customer service, as they have no way to be contacted outside o email, all to no avail. They could care less. Those out there remember that….they don’t care.

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