What exactly is an air traffic control or “flow” delay?
Essentially an air traffic control delay is created any time that the FAA believes too many airplanes will occupy any segment of airspace that your flight may be flying through. The FAA has determined that an air traffic controller can work a certain number of flights per hour. If this number is exceeded, it starts to automatically re-route flights around that air traffic control sector until the level of airplanes reaches the controller’s ability once again. This is done either by holding the aircraft on the ground or in the air until the situation solves itself.
The final reason for air traffic control delays is weather. When large thunderstorms build across the nation, air traffic must be routed around them both for passenger comfort and safety. Most large thunderstorms build to anywhere from 40,000 to 55,000 feet tall. The average commercial airliner can cruise no higher than 38-40,000 feet which limits the ability to fly over the top of the storm. These storms then create narrower corridors in which to flow the same number of aircraft across the country which means higher workloads for the controllers in those corridors. Ground holds or holding in the air may be issued so that enough space exists between airliners in the sky.
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