The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grounded all domestic flights in the United States early on Wednesday morning due to an overnight outage with the Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system that provides flight safety information to crews.
With more than 1,200 flights impacted, cruise travelers are sure to be facing delays as they work to reach departure ports or return home after a cruise.
All Flights Impacted
An overnight technical outage with the NOTAM alert system caused all U.S. domestic flights, as well as international flights inbound to the country, to be delayed or canceled early Wednesday.
The NOTAM provides safety information to pilots, including details on closed runways, rocket launches, military exercises, hazardous flocks of birds, inoperable lights on tall features such as skyscrapers or cranes, and other potential hazards that can impact a flight’s route or runway approach.
More than 1,200 flights in the U.S. were impacted by the outage, resulting in significant delays for travelers at all major airports, including hubs and airports closest to cruise embarkation ports.
According to the flight data tracking website FlightAware, at Miami International Airport, for example, 121 flights were delayed and 14 were cancelled at 9 a.m., while at Chicago O’Hare, 243 flights were delayed and 28 were cancelled.
In comparison, for all of Tuesday, January 10, a total of 5,853 flights were delayed within, into, or out of the U.S., with 206 cancellations. By only 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning, 5,854 flights were already delayed, with 957 cancelled.
It should be noted that flights already in the air are able to safely land with local information, but flights are not able to take off without comprehensive route safety information.
No information has been released as to why the NOTAM system failed, though it has been confirmed that there is no evidence of a cyberattack or other malicious intent. The United States Department of Transportation will be conducting a full investigation into the incident.
The NOTAM failure is not related to the Southwest Airlines flight cancellations that plagued travelers at the end of December.
What This Means for Cruise Travelers
Cruiser travelers flying to homeports and ready to set sail may experience significant delays in reaching their cruise ships, and should stay in touch with their cruise line for potential updates.
“I’m so sorry, I hope they get this fixed and you get to join your flight and make your cruise,” said John Heald, Carnival Cruise Line brand ambassador, about the fiasco.
There is little, however, that cruise lines can do when passengers are delayed due to flights. Choosing good travel insurance can help with reimbursement for flight change costs or missed cruises, depending on the terms of the individual policy. Many cruise travelers also choose to fly in to departure ports a day or two early in case of such problems.
Cruise lines, however, are not obligated to “hold” a ship while waiting for air travelers to arrive. If guests booked airfare through the cruise line, assistance will be available to help rebook flights in an effort to help travelers reach the ship on time, or else to catch up with the ship at the earliest port of call if necessary.
If a cruise ship remains docked past its scheduled departure time, the cruise line could face significant fines from the port, as well as scheduling problems with the itinerary if it may not be possible to reach ports of call as planned.
Operations Returning to Normal
By 9 a.m., some flights were beginning to resume at major airports, but it will take hours for full flights schedules to return to normal. Not only do delayed flights now need to be rescheduled, but other flights must still be accommodated on their original schedules as closely as possible. Dramatic air transportation congestion will likely further delay and cancel flights throughout the day.
Travelers should stay in close contact with their airline and be prepared for delays for the remainder of the day, and possibly into Thursday, January 12.
If flights are arriving with delays but still in time for getting to the cruise port before the ship sets sail, guests should reach out to the cruise line with details. Pre-scheduling shuttles, taxis, or rideshares to the cruise port can also help minimize any further time needed to reach the port and hopefully help travelers make their cruises on time.