Take a deep breath: Plane crashes involving high winds are all but unprecedented in the modern aviation era. Continue breathing deep—and continue reading deeper to learn more about how your flight might be affected by high winds.
Is It Safe to Fly in High Winds?
In general, the answer is yes. In addition to the fact that modern aircraft are designed to perform well in very high winds, pilots around the world must be able to demonstrate skill at flying in windy conditions in order to become licensed. Just as rain is almost never a barrier to safe flying, even relatively high winds are rarely an issue.
Of course, there are situations where strong winds prevent take-off or landing, or can result in bumps during flight—we’ll get to those in a second. For now, let’s look at the topic of what windspeed delays flights (if you can really name a specific speed).
What Speed of Wind Delays Flights?
In fact, take-off and landing are the only times during a flight when high winds can result in flight delays—most every flight deals with high winds at some point during its climb or descent. With this in mind, horizontal winds (also known as “crosswinds”) in excess of 30-35 kts (about 34-40 mph) are generally prohibitive of take-off and landing.
As far as how this happens, it depends on where you are in flight. If crosswinds are strong while the plane is at the gate, air traffic controllers maybe simply delay departure, as they would during heavy snow. If the plane attempts to land during wild crosswinds (you’ll see examples of this in just a few paragraphs), the pilot may decide to abort a planned landing, sometimes at the last minute!
Upper Level Winds vs Lower Level Winds
What wind speed delays flights is much different at the ground than in upper levels of the atmosphere. In fact, winds high-up can actually significantly decrease the amount of time a flight takes—at least when they come from behind. Known as tailwinds, these gusts usually occur when planes are flying eastward, such as from the US to Europe, and can known more than an hour off long flights during certain times of year.
On the other hand, headwinds can cause a flight to take longer, which is why westbound routes (such as those from much of the US to East Asia) tend to take longer than their eastbound counterparts. Another instance in which winds can result in flight delays is when they’re accompanied by thunderstorms, even if these occur during climb and descent more often than at cruising altitude.
Landing in Crosswinds: Fact vs Internet Fiction
Let’s go back tot he topic of crosswinds for a moment—the entire internet seems to be doing the same. Of course, while recent landings in Gibraltar and Amsterdam (among others) can look pretty scary on video, the fact is that pilots are trained to land in crosswinds—and to know when it’s best to give up and attempt another go around.
To look at it through another lens, while crosswinds make for great viral videos (and, perhaps, some churning passenger stomachs), they’re not particularly dangerous. As is the case with turbulence, crosswinds are almost certainly not going to bring your plane down.
Whether you’re curious about the logistical impacts of what windspeed delays flights or you’ve searched from a more paranoid state of mind, relax. While high winds can occasionally prevent planes from taking off or landing on time, winds won’t put your flight in any danger. Indeed, the slight delays you might experience as a result of strong winds are why flying in high winds remains completely safe in spite of their seeming treacherousness! Search Skyscanner for (hopefully!) on-time flights below.