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When travelers think of weather delays, they often envision ice on an airplane’s wings or snow drifts across the runway. In June 2017, a relatively new phenomenon occurred. The Southwest, including Nevada and Arizona, experienced an astounding heat wave. Temperatures rose to 115 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit. The Phoenix airport was forced to close down temporarily until the temperatures dropped. Learn about the reasons behind these closures and what they mean to the average traveler.

Maximum Operational Temperatures Reached

Airplanes are machines that have their limitations. Their manufacturers build them with as many extreme values as possible so that they can perform in both cold and hot conditions. However, there are always limits. Some airlines have a maximum operational temperature of 118 degrees Fahrenheit. Phoenix hit 120 degrees Fahrenheit so the planes were grounded. Internal components operating at these high temperatures can fail with dire consequences. Airplane operators can’t trust their gauges or other components in flight, which leads to cancelled flights until the weather cools down.

The Surrounding Air

It’s critical to learn about the science that affects flights when travelers encounter weather delays. Hot air tends to have fewer molecules than colder air. When a plane flies through the air, it relies on the air’s density to stay up at a certain altitude. The recent, heat wave made the air so light that flights couldn’t take off or remain in the air safely. As a result, many travelers ended up using their travel insurance to cover their losses as more flights remained on the ground.

Climbing Issues

If the airplanes took off during the heat wave, travelers would notice a stark difference in their climbing abilities. Airplanes seem to quickly reach their altitudes during normal weather. However, hot air’s density issues make climbing very difficult. It will take much longer and farther to reach a desired altitude. If the airport is surrounded by buildings or trees, these items may become obstacles.

Runway Length

Another factor to consider is the runway length. Hot weather requires the plane to travel farther on the runway to even lift up off of the ground. Because runways are only built within certain parameters, the airplanes won’t have enough room to take off.

Protecting the Traveler

Weather problems can’t be avoided at times so travelers must protect themselves from any financial loss. Travel insurance with trip cancellation coverage can apply in these instances so that travelers end up recouping their losses if a flight is cancelled outright due to inclement weather. Trip protection isn’t included with most flight purchases, which is why travelers must do their homework. Pay for the extra coverage, especially during summer or winter travel. There’s no stress if another heat wave strikes again because travelers will be protected.

Be patient with the flight crew if there is a weather-related issue. Listen to the instructions, and follow through with the information. Although a delayed or cancelled flight is a frustration, remaining safe is the goal of the day.

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