How Airlines Prepare For The Winter

Severe weather is already having an impact on operations at airports across the Northern Hemisphere this autumn. As winter approaches, airlines operating across these regions will be preparing for even harsher climates. 

Airlines work closely with airports to ensure safe flights during winter weather conditions. Photo: Southwest

According to a report written by the Government of Canada, 211 events at 76 Canadian airports could have been attributable to poor winter maintenance between 2010 and 2015.

The publication goes on to say that aircraft were damaged due several factors. These include “poor snow or ice removal, poor communication with airport winter maintenance vehicles, or poor communication of the runway conditions at airports”. So what do airlines do to prepare themselves for the winter season of flying?

Proper planning: extra time, extra staff

Before the aircraft is even assigned to a flight, there are many things airlines do to adjust for winter weather. Scheduling is key. Historical data is full of useful information which will help an airline properly plan out its schedules. If a particular airport often sees delays, then extra buffer time is built into the airline’s flight schedule.

Extra time needs to be factored into flights because each plane needs to have its wings de-iced before it takes to the air (more on that below). Depending on the airport and the number of crews available, aircraft can be delayed further while waiting for other planes to get de-iced. I recall one flight I was on last year that was de-iced – but because so much time had passed waiting for other aircraft to take-off and land, it had to be de-iced once again before finally lifting off.

A CNBC report writes about how Delta Air Lines prepares for frigid conditions by increasing staffing of ground workers. This allows employees to take more frequent breaks indoors. Furthermore, Delta spokesperson Michael Thomas adds that the airline moves some aircraft into heated hangars overnight.

Delta buys 10% of Alitalia
Delta increases staffing on the ground so employees can take more frequent breaks indoors. Photo: Delta

Relying on the meteorologists

International Airport Review says that in the UK, Met Office aviation meteorologists are based on site at Heathrow Airport 24 hours a day, seven days a week. These meteorologists work directly alongside operational staff, working to predict and mitigate the impact of bad weather. Vital information is sent to airports and airlines, which minimizes disruption to schedules, and passengers.

The United Airlines video above gives a behind-the-scenes look at pre-planning and weather analysis. It shows how meteorologists work for the airline to properly deal with the weather.


Allegiant airliner in snow on taxiway
An Allegiant Airlines A320 getting de-iced before departure. Photo: redlegsfan21 via Wikimedia Commons

“Ice on a plane increases the weight of the plane and also affects the aerodynamic capabilities of the wing” says one of the United winter-operations specialists in the video above.

Transport Canada notes that de-icing is not inexpensive. Adding to the cost of the fluids themselves are the costs of delays, inconvenience and environmental protection. Airport crews must ensure that the aircraft is properly de-/anti-iced prior to departure. Furthermore, the flight crew must ensure that “contamination is not adhering to the critical surfaces of the aircraft” immediately before takeoff.


The weather is set to get even cooler, meaning snow and ice will become more frequent. We hope all of you flyers and readers out there experience minimal disruption and delay to your journey!

Have you ever been on a flight that was severely impacted by winter weather? Share your story with us by leaving a comment!