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What an active hurricane season means for airlines in Florida

A Western Global Airlines McDonnell Douglas MD-11 cargo plane flies past the moon above Surfside, Fla., as it prepares to land at Miami International Airport, Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Wilfredo Lee
A Western Global Airlines McDonnell Douglas MD-11 cargo plane flies past the moon above Surfside, Fla., as it prepares to land at Miami International Airport, Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021.

Meteorologists say there will be at least 19 named storms during the 2022 Atlantic Hurricane season. This forecast could make it more difficult for flights going through Florida, especially if the planes don't have the proper equipment.

Nothing puts a damper on a trip than a delayed flight, especially when severe weather crops up.

Another above-average Atlantic hurricane season could increase the chances of delays and cancellations for those flying through Florida this summer.

Meteorologists from Colorado State University predict there will be at least 19 named storms and nine hurricanes when the season officially starts in June.

This forecast does not bode well particularly for planes that do not have the proper equipment. In fact, they won't be allowed to leave the tarmac.

If an aircraft needs to fly more than 50 na utic al miles away from land, the Federal Aviation Associationrequires it to carry what it calls overwater equipment. That includes life rafts, flotation devices, emergency locator beacons and extra radio transmitters.

Lonny Craven, the director of airside operations at Miami International Airport, has been working at MIA for more than 40 years.

"If the plane is not over water equipped, then the plane can't be flown over the ocean, so what happens is there's a delay and it backs up air traffic control and planes may be held in Baltimore, San Francisco, New York."

Earlier this month, more than 3,500 flights were delayed or canceledbecause of severe weather across Florida, derailing plans for customers. At Miami International Airport, more than 400 flights were canceled and more than 500 others were delayed.

The weather mostly affected domestic inbound flights opera ted by American, Delta, Southwest and Spirit airlines that were coming in from the Central U.S. and North Florida.

Indira Almeida-Pardillo, a spokesperson for the Miami-Dade Aviation Department, asks passengers to be patient in these types of situations.

"We need them to know that we are working on expediting that process. But sometimes when it's weather related, it's out of our hands," she said.

But when it comes to severe weather, a detour isn't always an option.

Planes that regularly fly over land cannot fly around bad weather conditions if they don't have the proper water equipment. It's particularly difficult in Florida — a state dotted with lakes and rivers and surrounded by oceans.

Every pound counts and a heavier plane means more fuel.

"Well, aviation is trying to make the customer happy," Craven said. "They don't want to leave the customer or their baggage, and they definitely need the fuel. So it's a tradeoff."

It's more cost effective for planes that normally fly over land to leave the gear behind.

"You're paying for something that you don't really need," Craven said. "You're dragging it around with you, and you may never fly over water with it. "

The equipment has a certain shelf-life , which requires airlines to regularly get the gear recertified to continually meet FAA regulations. Larger aircraft and international flights typically come ov e rwater equipped.

"You would drive your car until the engine stopped and then you take it to the mechanic , o k ay ? Airplanes aren't like that," Craven said. "Every stop they make, the mechanics come out, the line maintenance crews come out and check the aircraft all over the place. "

He says even if the weather is clear at the airport, it's always worth checking conditions along the flight's overall path.

If the weather worsens, passengers should check their flight status 24 to 48 hours in advance, Almedia-Pardillo said.

If a passenger's flight gets delayed or canceled while at the airport, it's best to contact the airline for assistance.

"The airlines usually in these circumstances, what they do is that they offer food vouchers and they're able to accommodate some passengers if the delay goes above 24 hours," she said.

Passenger pla nes may be sturdy and efficient, but mother nature always has the final say.

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