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What Is a Ground Stop? What to Know



While you might not know what a ground stop is, chances are you’ve probably experienced one if you’ve flown a lot. A ground stop is a tool to control air traffic, and when one’s enacted, it inevitably leads to delays.

“A ground stop is issued by the FAA via air traffic control (ATC) to prevent the system from having to handle too many planes,” says former airline pilot Dan Bubb, a professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and an expert on aviation history. One of the most common reasons a ground stop is issued? Bad weather, 

Ground stops sound straightforward, but there are more pieces to the puzzle than you might think. Here’s what you need to know about ground stops, including how they might affect your flight.

Meet the Expert

Dan Bubb is an expert on commercial aviation and airport history. A former pilot, he is a professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the author of Landing in Las Vegas: Commercial Aviation and the Making of a Tourist City.

Patrick Smith is an airline pilot, air travel blogger at AskThePilot.com, and author.

What is a ground stop?

A ground stop is a measure to slow or halt air traffic at an airport, within a designated airspace, or for specific aircraft. The ultimate purpose is to allow air traffic to flow safely.

Ground stops are issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) — more specifically, the FAA Air Traffic Control System Command Center (ATCSCC), which oversees air traffic control nationwide. The FAA calls ground stops “one of the most restrictive methods of traffic management,” as they “override all other traffic management initiatives.” Essentially that means that if a ground stop is issued, there’s nothing you can do to “get around” it. 

They can apply to a single airport or an entire region, depending on the reasoning behind the ground stop. In very rare circumstances, a nationwide ground stop can be issued (more on that up next). Ground stops can also affect specific airlines or aircraft, too. For example, a ground stop halted all Alaska Airlines flights in April 2024 when a software upgrade created a problem in the system that calculates a plane’s weight and balance.

What causes ground stops?

Weather is the most common reason the FAA issues ground stops. “Air traffic control will issue ‘ground stops’ when routings become saturated, and/or a particular airport is unable to handle more flights,” airline pilot Patrick Smith of AskThePilot.com tells Travel + Leisure. “This usually happens when storms get in the way of busy routes or arrival corridors, or an airport gets fogged in.”

But there have been notable ground stops for other reasons, too, from catastrophic events to equipment failures. On 9/11, the FAA issued a nationwide ground stop — in fact, the entire U.S. airspace was closed, prohibiting all takeoffs and requiring all current flights to land immediately. This marked the first time a nationwide ground stop was ordered in U.S. history. A second nationwide ground stop occurred on Jan. 11, 2023, when the FAA’s Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system went down. Ground stops can even be issued for staffing problems, as happened at New York’s LaGuardia in January 2019, due to a government shutdown.

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How do ground stops affect flights?

Ground stops inevitably cause delays, as they’re all about slowing or stopping air traffic. “Usually, ground stops are relatively short — one to two hours — but can be longer,” says Bubb. They can also be shorter, even less than 30 minutes. It all depends on the given situation.

When the FAA issues a ground stop, it also issues an update time, which is when the ground stop will be re-evaluated. If it’s all clear, the ground stop will be canceled. But if conditions remain less than optimal, the ground stop can be extended.

During a ground stop, planes aren’t allowed to take off from their departure airport if they are scheduled to arrive at the affected airport during the estimated duration of the ground stop. “If Newark or LaGuardia is ground-stopped, for example, planes in Boston or Chicago or Orlando won’t be permitted to depart for those airports,” says Smith. “Longer-distance flights are usually exempt.” This explains why your flight may be delayed due to weather, even if the weather is fine at your origin point. The weather may not be fine along your route or at your destination — if there’s a ground stop, you might not be taking off any time soon.

How do flights get back up and running after a ground stop?

It’s a team effort between ATC, airport staff, ground crew, and flight crew. Overall, as with all things air traffic–related, ATC choreographs the movement of planes, and that includes resuming operations after a ground stop.

Because there are likely multiple flights affected by ground stops — not to mention flights not affected by ground stops that are operating as scheduled — it may take a little time for things to get back up to speed. ATC will slot in delayed flights as soon as possible, but the timing depends upon the other traffic on the airfield. For instance, it’s usually more difficult to slot in delayed flights at big hub airports with nonstop departures than it is at a regional airport with a lighter departure schedule.

What can you do if a ground stop delays your flight or causes a cancellation? 

If your flight is delayed due to a ground stop, make sure you’re tapped into flight updates to find out the latest information, whether that’s via your airline’s app or website, a third-party app that tracks flights, or even social media accounts for your origin or destination airports. The more in-the-know you are, the better. Ground stops can be lifted quickly, so your delay might not be very long at all. (No matter what the reason is for your flight’s delay, you should always arrive at the airport for the original departure time — delays can suddenly be revoked, and flights can depart on time.)

As for compensation for ground-stop delays, it all depends on the nature of the ground stop. Airlines are not required to compensate you for “uncontrollable” or “unforeseen” events, such as bad weather. But if the reason for the delay is within their control — say, in the case of the Alaska Airlines ground stop — the airline must provide compensation of some kind. You can find details about compensation for delays on the U.S. Department of Transportation dashboard for airline cancellations and delays.

If you’ve purchased separate travel insurance, however, you may be eligible for compensation for any delay. But it all depends on your specific policy, so read the fine print to find out what’s covered.

If your flight is canceled due to a ground stop, an airline is required to rebook you or provide a refund for your flight (in fact, that’s true of any cancellation). Stay in touch with your airline about your options, but be prepared to advocate for yourself — whether you choose to be rebooked or take the refund is entirely a personal call.



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