Snowy weather can wreak havoc on air travelers’ schedules, but you may be surprised to learn that the planes themselves are usually not the ones to blame. Only very rarely do airlines cancel flights because conditions have gotten so bad that they make flying unsafe. Usually, airports shut down and airlines ground their flights due to operational concerns long before the weather hits that point. If you’re worried about flying during a snowstorm, here are some things to keep in mind:
The rules and risks are well known.
Snowstorms do present certain dangers to a flight, but airlines, pilots, and regulators know exactly what they are. For instance, airlines have tables that determine exactly how much crosswind a plane can handle under given runway conditions while still landing safely.
The runway is the hard part.
Airports need to keep runways clear of snow and standing water so that planes can get enough speed to take off. Oftentimes when an airport closes during a storm, it’s because ground crews can’t keep up with the rate of snowfall.
Your plane will be de-iced.
Planes can’t take off with ice on their wings, so during icy conditions airlines spray the wings of their planes with de-icing fluid before they take off. Pilots and ground crews coordinate during de-icing to make sure everyone follows the proper procedures and the plane stays safe.
Freezing rain is worse than snow.
The ice caused by freezing rain is far more likely to make flying impossible than snow. Therefore, you should keep an eye out for rain combined with near-freezing temperatures, which could impact your flight.
You may be able to change your flight early.
Airlines dislike the chaos caused by canceled flights and stranded travelers almost as much as travelers do. If there’s a major storm predicted for the day you’re traveling, you may be able to alter your itinerary free of charge.