You Can Find Out If Your Flight Will Be Delayed Before It's Even Announced — Here's How

Forget the departure boards and airline apps — here’s how you can get ahead of a delay.

We've all been the ones standing at the airport gate, looking forlornly at the jet bridge leading to an empty space, losing all hope for an on-time departure. It might even be boarding time, and although there isn't a plane in sight, the airline still hasn't announced a delay.

Unfortunately, flight delays are woven into the fabric of travel. Only some realize, however, that they're actually somewhat predictable. Learning about a delay in advance can help relieve a little bit of stress on those dreaded days. So, here's how you can be one of the first to find out whether your plane has been delayed.

Causes of Delays

First, you should know why planes experience delays in the first place. There are two main reasons for holdups on the runway.


"The most obvious clue, of course, is checking the weather," airline pilot Patrick Smith of Ask the Pilot told Travel + Leisure. Naturally, if either your origin or destination is experiencing bad weather, there's a solid chance your flight could be delayed. "There are, however, lots of variables here," adds Smith. "Some hubs are more prone to delays than others. A few inches of snow in Denver or Detroit aren't a big deal. Snow in Washington or Dallas, on the other hand, can cause problems."

American carriers must detail the cause of their delays to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, which publishes a monthly report of that information. In 2022, weather caused roughly a quarter of each month's delays, on average. And while you might expect most of those delays to occur during the winter, July and August had the highest percentage of weather-related delays — 28% and 29%, respectively.

Inbound Status

Airplane landing with sunset in background
David Nunuk/Getty Images

More common — albeit less predictable — causes of delays include the late arrival of an aircraft due to a previous delay, maintenance or crew issues, and heavy traffic. Together, these accounted for the majority of all flight delays recorded in 2022.

"Knowing the plane's inbound status is a huge clue to how its outbound status might be affected," Smith said. "Some airline websites and apps allow you to track the whereabouts of the plane you'll be taking." Besides tracking features offered by specific airlines, you can also use a third party such as FlightAware, the world's largest flight-tracking platform. If the flight before yours is delayed, the odds are yours might be delayed, too.

Seasoned travelers know the chance of one of these delays occurring increases as the day progresses. Because delays can create a ripple effect in the schedule, you're better off flying in the morning.

How to Anticipate Flight Delays

Check the map view of the FAA's flight delay information to see delays happening around the country in real time. The map is color-coded by the duration of the delay, from 15 minutes to 45 minutes or more, so you can see patterns at your origin, your destination, and the airport your plane is coming from.

The issue with delays dictated by the National Airspace System is that information can be a little complicated to decipher, as it's usually a jumble of letters and numbers that doesn't make sense to the average person. That's where an app like Flighty is helpful. Flighty is designed to pull all the available data about your flight, decode and interpret it, and alert you to any potential issues that might affect your departure.

"What the airline is trying to do is delay the flight as little as possible, as late as possible. And what we're trying to do is tell the truth as soon as possible," Flighty's founder and CEO, Ryan Jones, told T+L.

While you can certainly look up all the information on your own, you'd have to check multiple sources several times in the lead-up to departure. Flighty automates that process for you. "We watch everything that is happening with the plane up to 25 hours in advance and tell you if you need to care," Jones said. The app, which has both a free version and a premium one that costs $5.99 per month or $47.99 per year, notifies you not only about delays but also about details like gate changes, which sometimes aren't announced at the airport until the last minute.

Even if you can't do anything to change the fact that your flight is delayed, simply being aware of what's going on might be able to bring you a little bit of comfort. Or, if you have a severe delay, knowing early could even give you a leg up on booking another flight. At the very least, you'll know whether or not you have time for another drink in the lounge before you need to head to your gate.

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