Why do Florida airports have so many flight delays? Weather, rocket launches, and more visitors

The Sunshine State may be to blame for a national travel crisis as more flights than ever are being delayed or canceled. Experts blame the weather, rocket launches, and a growing tourist and business population. Passengers are the ones to suffer the consequences.

According to the flight tracking site, "Flight Aware," 249 flights were delayed and two were canceled at Orlando International Airport on Sunday. On Monday, nearly 200 flights were delayed and three were canceled.

"We’re delayed right now. So we’re waiting," said passenger Laura Sabagh. "It’s very frustrating!" 

Experts said there are several reasons for delays, such as thunderstorms, a big tourist and business population, as well as rocket launches. Capt. Shem Malmquist, a visiting instructor at the Florida Institute of Technology explains, how uniquely Florida factors can slow down flight operations everywhere. 

"Those launches shut down big areas of airspace for blocks of time," he explained.  "When there’s a thunderstorm or electrical storm, that also restricts your ground operation."

"I fly probably three to four times a month. The last couple of months I had delays where I’ve opted to drive eight hours instead," passenger Greg Sullivan told us. 

Because of the delays, Malmquist added, "The airlines are not operating as many flights as they could, based on the airline's ability, just because of all these constraints."

During a shareholders' meeting, Matt Klein, executive vice president and Chief commercial officer at Spirit Airlines, said he would like to have more flights out of Florida, but it's difficult. He blamed staffing levels at the Jacksonville Air Traffic Control Center. 

"Florida to the Continental U.S. accounts for about 40% of our network," he said. "If this constraint did not exist, Florida to the Continental U.S. would likely be closer to 50% of our network."

"Each place that gets delayed, it just ripples through the entire country, and it causes an ongoing issue," Malmquist said. "Sometimes it can take the carriers a couple of days to catch up."

Malmquist said Orlando International Airport had about 28% of its departures delayed in just the past month, and passengers are the ones to pay for it. Experts said a shortage of workers is also to blame. 

If you want to avoid delays, try taking the first flight out in the morning.

Editor's note: Story updated to correct Matt Klein's title with Spirit Airlines.