Jeff Masters Weather Blog

Climate change could make air travel even worse » Yale Climate Connections

Flight delays and missed connections can turn a joyful holiday trip into a stressful fiasco. And these headaches may become more common as floods, heat waves, and storms grow more extreme.

Paul Williams is a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Reading in the UK.

Williams: “Climate change has many potential consequences for the future of flying.”

For example, in September 2023, heavy rain caused hundreds of delays and cancellations at New York City airports. At La Guardia, a terminal flooded, forcing travelers to wade through inches of water.

And extreme heat can make it harder for planes to take off, because hotter air is less dense, which reduces the aircraft’s lift.

Todd Smith, a former commercial pilot, says that to compensate, planes sometimes need to shed weight before taking off.

Smith: “Passengers are having to be offloaded or baggage, et cetera, so that the aircraft is within performance limits.”

He worries that airlines are not doing enough to plan and prepare for these sorts of climate-related risks.

Smith: “So far, I think the industry hasn’t fully accepted this reality and that it’s set to get worse.”

So more passengers may be stuck waiting around at airports in a warming world.

Reporting Credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media

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