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Duly Delayed

Not all flights are delayed because of bad weather, faulty aircraft parts or congestion in the airspace. At times, baggage checked in without an accompanying passenger causes major delays due to security issues. Capt. Lim Khoy Hing explains in detail.

At times, I find it a little hard to produce a good explanation to passengers as to why flights are delayed. However, occasional delays are part and parcel of air travel and, as much as we dislike being late, we cannot avoid them.

     Most delays are generally due to technical, air traffic or weather-related problems. Long delays have a cumulative effect (due to the fact that the same aircraft would be used for later flights) and therefore, are bad for the airline business too.

     Mechanical problems are a common cause for delays, which is aggravated by congestion resulting from crowded skies with more and more people embarking on air travel. This ‘travel explosion’ inevitably leads to late air traffic clearances or being put on hold at the embarkation gate due to the many planes queuing up to fly out.

     Pilots or airlines do not deliberately delay flights despite what passengers may think. Any delays – even for a minute – have to be explained in detail by the captain. Yes, even one minute! This shows how serious the airlines are in ensuring you depart on time.

     In this issue, I’ll discuss how passengers can help airlines reduce delays and, make flying safer and more comfortable for all.

Delayed by Passengers

If a passenger with no checked-in baggage fails to turn up on time for the flight, he will be left behind. However, on international flights, a passenger who has checked-in with bags but fails to show up at the gate creates a bigger problem. The flight cannot depart unless the checked-in bags are off-loaded (in case the luggage carries harmful contents that may endanger the aircraft during flight). If the captain ignores this to avoid the delay, he would infringe on strict rules (Annex 17 of ICAO), leading to severe consequences for the pilot and the airline.

     The objective of this rule is to ensure passengers board flights onto which they have checked-in their baggage. The general security presumption is that terrorists will not want to kill themselves, and will not board an aircraft if they have placed an explosive in the baggage, although nowadays, suicide bombers have no such compunctions.

     To achieve compliance, loading of baggage is done manually onto the cargo compartment. In this case, each luggage item is tagged whilst being loaded. The other part of the baggage tags, which are bar-coded, are stuck onto a sheet and compared to a list of the passengers on board. When a passenger with a checked-in bag fails to show up, the baggage handlers will remove the particular piece of luggage. Depending on the position of the luggage in the aircraft, this may take a lot of time and cause major delays to the departure.

Contents that Kill

Unaccompanied bags, which were found to have explosives have led to the destruction of two planes. On June 23, 1985, Air India Flight 182, operating on the Montréal-London-Delhi route on a Boeing 747 was blown up by explosives, crashing into the Atlantic Ocean. A total of 329 people died.

     On December 21, 1988, a Pan Am Boeing 747 was also destroyed by explosives, killing 243 passengers and 16 crew members on board. Eleven people on the ground at Lockerbie in southern Scotland also perished, bringing the total fatality to 270.

Do Away with Delays

Flight delays cost time and money to passengers and airlines and are more than just an inconvenience. Passengers, however, can help to mitigate this problem by observing the below listed:

•  Arrive early at the airport and check-in early, allowing ample time for any possible queues and delays at the counter.

•  Arrive early at the boarding gate by not wandering off too long to duty-free shops.

•  Be aware of what is allowed in your hand luggage, especially with regards to LAG (liquids, aerosols and gas). Ensure you do not carry more than the allowed quantity and if in doubt, declare it to the security officers. 

Better Late…

Delays are never desirable but can be reduced when passengers are considerate and are aware of flight requirements. Those not caused by passengers are normally unavoidable (such as repairs/replacement of faulty mechanical parts or due to bad weather) but necessary in order to ensure passengers safety.

     Hopefully, this article will go some way towards making you feel less irritated at the pilots if you ever hear an apologetic voice informing you of a delay in your flight.

As always, I wish you a safe flight.

Note: Travelers that infringe Annex17 are required to pay additional charges when purchasing a new ticket.

Annex 17 of ICAO**

“Should passengers flying internationally with checked-in baggage fail to arrive at the departure gate before the flight is closed, that person’s baggage must be retrieved from the aircraft hold before the flight is permitted to take off”

**International Civil Aviation Organisation


Captain Lim Khoy Hing is a former AirAsia Airbus A320 and AirAsia X A330/A340 pilot who also used to fly the Boeing 777. He has logged a total of more than 25,500 flying hours and is now a Simulator Flight Instructor with Air Asia X. In his spare time, he shares his opinion on aviation issues with others. For more air travel and aviation stories,check out his website, ‘Just About Flying’ at www.askcaptainlim.com.