Flying during thunderstorms - What should I bear in mind? - Flightright UK

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Flying during thunderstorms – What should I bear in mind?

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Key Points about “Flying during thunderstorms”

  • Avoid flying during thunderstorms if possible.
  • Pilots have access to advanced weather information.
  • Aircrafts are designed to withstand lightning strikes.
  • In-flight turbulence is common during thunderstorms.
  • Cabin crew will secure cabin before and during storms.
  • Lightning can interfere with electronic systems on rare occasions.
  • In rare cases, a flight may be diverted or delayed.


You had a flight delay or a flight cancellation? Check your rights now and increase your chances of compensation

Flying is undoubtedly the fastest way to travel from A to B in comfort. This is at least the case if you have to travel long distances. Some can sleep comfortably during a flight, but for others, it is a real challenge. Thunderstorms during the flight can be particularly frightening. Here, even people without fear of flying sometimes panic. But thunderstorms can have other effects as well. They often result in flight delays and cancellations due to bad weather. How dangerous a thunderstorm really is for aircraft and what you are entitled to in the event of a delay or cancellation is explained below.

What is actually “bad weather”?

The term “bad weather” is used almost inflationarily in everyday life. For many people, the fact that the sky is cloudy and the sun is obscured is enough to speak of bad weather. In the context of air travel, however, one has to apply completely different standards. Let us explain the three most common weather phenomena that can lead to problems in connection with air travel.

1. Severe weather

In meteorology, severe weather is defined as one or more extreme weather events. Very different weather extremes can be relevant here. For example, strong winds such as a storm or hurricane are just as much a storm as black ice, heavy downpours or snowstorms.

2. Thunderstorm front

In our region, thunderstorm fronts usually occur in summer. The reason for this are the sometimes extreme temperature differences. If a cold front cools down during the warm summer season, it often brings a series of thunderclouds with it. These in turn are called thunderstorm fronts. Thunderstorm fronts in summer must be distinguished from classic heat storms. While heat storms often affect only small areas, thunderstorm fronts can bring rain, lightning and thunder, sometimes over large areas.

3. Ash cloud

One form of “bad weather” that fortunately occurs extremely rarely is the so-called ash cloud. This is caused by volcanic activity. Probably the most famous example is Eyjafjallajökull, located in Iceland, which erupted on 20 March 2010. The resulting volcanic ash was carried into the air by eruptions. Due to the poor visibility caused by the cloud in European airspace, air traffic was suspended in large parts of the continent.

Have you been affected by a flight delay/cancellation due to bad weather?
In these cases, you are usually entitled to compensation under the EU Passenger Rights Regulation 261/2004. An exception only applies if extraordinary circumstances led to this. Nevertheless, you should also try to enforce your rights in the event of delays / flight cancellations due to severe weather.

With us, you can check your rights for free in two minutes. You can get up to 600 euros of compensation per person (minus commission fee).

Are you also affected by an overbooking, missed connection, or denied boarding? Check your flight now. Simple ✔ fast ✔ & without risk ✔

What is a thunderstorm? Dangerous lightning?

Not all thunderstorms are the same. In meteorology, a distinction is made between different forms. They are always caused by high temperature differences. That is why the strongest thunderstorms usually occur in both the summer and winter months. In a summer thunderstorm, it is the moist warm air that rises and meets cold air masses in higher regions. A winter thunderstorm, on the other hand, occurs when the air masses suddenly cool down already at a high temperature. The large temperature differences lead to increased cloud formation, which in turn generates electricity. In order for this voltage to discharge, lightning and thunder occur.

The weather phenomenon of thunder and lightning has fascinated and frightened people for thousands of years. This is hardly surprising, especially in view of the existing scientific knowledge of our ancestors. They always associated the loud crash and bright, sudden glow with a warning from their gods or from nature. But even if we are smarter today, this does not mean that lightning is harmless. For example, lightning causes an extremely high current, which can result in serious injuries such as burns.

Do planes fly during thunderstorms? 

Thunderstorms in themselves carry a certain risk that simply has to be dealt with. But what about flying during thunderstorms? Can you fly when there is lightning? Aircraft are an extremely safe means of transport. But can they fly during a thunderstorm? It is a fact that airplanes are occasionally struck by lightning on their journey from A to B. According to experts, this happens at least once a year. But aircraft can usually withstand these strikes/incidents without further complications.

After all, they usually hardly notice the impact. It manifests itself in a slight bang or a discreet wobble. Acoustically and visually, on the other hand, the experience is more dramatic. This means that here, too, a sudden bright light appears first. This is followed by a crashing roll of thunder. But you should not let this drive you crazy. After all, you are well protected from the lightning in the aircraft. Because of the metal sheathing, the lightning cannot penetrate the inside of the aircraft. It only leaves a small spot on the outer shell of the aircraft. If you are experiencing a thunderstorm during air travel for the first time, you may well panic. In this case, you should remember that a thunderstorm front usually passes through quickly.

Flying during thunderstorms: How dangerous is it really?

Flying during thunderstorms is not a pleasant experience for most people. This is not the least because many people are already afraid of thunder and lightning on the ground. If you then find yourself in an exceptional situation in an aircraft, the effects are usually even worse. But is a thunderstorm dangerous for aircraft at all? Many passengers assume so, as flights are grounded during thunderstorms. What few people know is that flights are rarely delayed or even cancelled in this case because of the risks to aircraft, crew and passengers. Rather, it is because of the risks to people who have to work around it. In particular, those who are responsible for security and loading luggage on the tarmac of an airport face great risks. To ensure that they do not suffer any damage, airports usually impose a flight ban in these cases.

Only after the thunderstorm has ended are people allowed to work on the tarmac again and flights allowed to take off again. But how is it possible to be completely spared from the thunderstorm inside? This is where the principle of the Faraday cage comes into play. We also know this from closed vehicles on the ground, such as cars or trucks. The Faraday cage describes a law in which a closed space guides the lightning along a round body when lightning strikes. Once the lightning has circled the body, it leaves it again. It follows that people inside the room do not have to worry about being struck by lightning. To rule out any long-term consequences for aircraft technology, an aircraft struck by lightning is thoroughly checked after landing.

What happens when an aircraft is struck by lightning?

What happens when lightning strikes the aircraft? Due to the special material and shape of the aircraft, there is nothing to fear when lightning strikes. Once lightning has struck the aircraft it spreads out over the entire fuselage according to the principle of the Faraday cage, discharges and then leaves the aircraft at the opposite end of the impact site. To minimize damage to the aluminium and copper sheathing, captains nevertheless try to fly around thunderstorm fronts as best they can.

So is flying during a thunderstorm completely safe?

If you are sitting in an aeroplane, you do not have to be afraid of being struck by lightning. This is due to the physical principle of the Faraday cage. So is flying through a thunderstorm completely harmless? Since 200,000 aircraft around the world carry freight and passengers from A to B every day, there have of course been problems in history that resulted from a thunderstorm. After all, even the best aircraft technology and the most modern meteorological forecasts cannot rule out that in exceptional cases a disaster may occur. However, it is very rarely lightning that poses a danger. Instead, strong gusts of wind can become a danger. But even if this danger is omnipresent, it should by no means be overestimated. Modern flight support systems can easily cope with strong gusts.

Bad weather – always an exceptional circumstance?

When it comes to the possibility of compensation due to the delay or even cancellation of a flight, there is a crucial question. Is it a matter of ordinary or extraordinary circumstances? Unfortunately, if an extraordinary circumstance causes your flight to be delayed or not to depart at all, you cannot make a claim under the EU Passenger Rights Regulation 261/2004. After all, you cannot hold the airline responsible for the circumstance. If your flight is suddenly cancelled, weather conditions are often responsible for this. Since storms, thunderstorms and heavy downpours are exceptional circumstances, the airline isn’t responsible.

Flight cancellation and flight delay due to a thunderstorm – What are you entitled to?

A thunderstorm is an extraordinary circumstance for which the airline is not responsible. This means that if your flight is delayed or even cancelled, you have no claim under the EU Passenger Rights Regulation 261/2004. Incidentally, this does not only apply if aircraft are not allowed to take off due to weather conditions. If an aircraft has been struck by lightning, it will be thoroughly checked by specialists afterwards. This can sometimes take several hours, which also leads to delays. Since this process is also directly related to the weather, such a delay will also be due to an extraordinary circumstance in most cases. But can I get compensation despite the bad weather? It can always be worth trying. In this case, simply contact air passenger rights experts like Flightright. We will check whether the airline is just using a poor excuse or if there really were extraordinary circumstances.

Compensation payments due to severe weather: How to secure your claims

You missed your flight or it was even cancelled? In these cases, you are usually entitled to compensation under the EU Air Passenger Rights Regulation 261/2004. The only exception is if extraordinary circumstances led to this. But you should also check your claim in the event of a delay due to a storm. You have nothing to lose. To maximize your chances of getting compensation, it is best to follow the checklist below. 

1. Flying during thunderstormsCheck in on time

Be sure to arrive at the check-in terminal on time to be able to check in on time. Otherwise, you risk being ultimately responsible for a missed flight.

2. Watch air traffic

Is your airline claiming severe weather as the cause of delays or cancellations? Keep an eye on the air traffic to analyse whether it has really been suspended or drastically reduced. If nothing has changed, the airline may just be trying to use extraordinary circumstances as a pretext.

3. Flying during thunderstorms – Documents / Documentation

You should definitely document your findings and corresponding times. This can prove to be valuable evidence for the enforcement of air passenger rights.

4. Flying during thunderstormsChecking your claim

You can conveniently check whether you are entitled to compensation at Flightright.

Check your claim in 2 minutes

5. File a claim – even retroactively

Even if your flight was several months or even years ago, you can enforce your rights retroactively. In Germany, for example, the statute of limitations is three years.

How much is the compensation?

The amount of compensation depends on various factors. Not only does the length of the delay play a major role. Whether the flight is short-haul, medium-haul or long-haul is also relevant. If the arrival is delayed by at least three hours, your entitlements are as follows:

  • Short distance – up to 1500 km – Passengers are due €250 Compensation
  • Medium distance – between 1500 km and 3500 km – Passengers are due €400 Compensation
  • Long distance – over 3500 km – Passengers are due €600 Compensation

Flight delay (at destination after possible rebooking and/or diversions)

up to 2 hoursup to 3 hoursup to 4 hoursnever arrivedDistance
0 €250 €250 €250 €< 1500  km
0 €400 €400 €400 €1500 km – 3500 km
0 €600 €600 €600 €> 3500 km
What am I entitled to under EU regulations in the event of a flight delay?

Flight cancellation (at destination after possible rebooking and/or diversions)

up to 2 hoursup to 3 hoursup to 4 hoursnever arrivedDistance
125 €250 €250 €250 €< 1500  km
200 €400 €400 €400 €1500 km – 3500 km
300 €600 €600 €600 €> 3500 km
What am I entitled to under EU regulations in the event of a flight cancellation?

How can Flightright help you?

Have you been affected by a flight delay / cancellation due to bad weather?

In these cases, you are usually entitled to compensation under the EU Passenger Rights Regulation 261/2004. An exception only applies if extraordinary circumstances led to this. Nevertheless, you should also try to enforce your rights in the event of delays / flight cancellations due to severe weather.

Tip: Flightright helps you enforce your air passenger rights! With us, you can check your claims free of charge in two minutes. ✔️Easy, ✔️fast & without ✔️risk

You can get up to 600 euros compensation per person (minus commission fee). This compensation is independent of the ticket price. Flightright enforces your right for you. If necessary also in court.

Flightright is the market-leading consumer portal fighting for the enforcement of air passenger rights. We stand up for your rights in the event of a flight delay, cancellation, or denied boarding and refer to the European Union’s Air Passenger Rights Regulation 261/2004. Flightright’s air passenger rights experts are also happy to help you with ticket reimbursements and refunds for canceled package tours.

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