Courtesy Protocol


What’s the general protocol for private jets and scheduling? I’ve noticed many times that flight plans are filed last minute, and that of course many times at the mercy of their clients, just don’t show up! What is considered the polite way to cancel or delay a flight in general aviation? Or is there actually a protocol with requirements for last minute changes?

I’ve seen GA flight plans that aren’t followed through on, and they get dumped into the system as “delayed” and then later as “unknown,” either until they show up late, or file a new flight plan. Or does this even bother the system at all?


That’s the nature of the game. Things change all the time, and our scheduling department does an amazing job of accomodating it all. Owners can be…well… flakey, and they’d change their flight times 10 times a day if it suited them. Some people are chronically late, and some are almost always early. Sometimes a flight will pop up at the last minute and scheduling will do their best to make it work. When the aircell rings behind my head while enroute it’s almost never a good sign…especially when we’re on our way home! "we need you to fly out to Midway for a 4am show"
In my experience, most professional flight crews I’ve seen, whether charter, fractional, or corporate, who don’t have a dedicated dispatch department have been using or similar. You can file a bunch of flight plans all at once, but they are saved in queue and will only file them through duats on your behalf just before the scheduled departure time. I don’t think it clogs anything up at all if you have one on file and you never pick it up. Once you pick up the clearance though that initiates some ATC workload.
Notice: This may be obvious for our Canadian friends, but we recently discovered a little tidbit of information that can cause quite a hassle. If you file an inter-canadian flight plan, and never pick it up, the airspace is still blocked out for you. Example: You file a flight plan from Toronto to Quebec, but are delayed or cancelled by weather even before you leave your home base in the states, you have to call and remove the flight plan from the Canadian airspace system. Otherwise a few hours later you’ll get a call saying the C130 has just taken off to go look for you. Not good.

I’m not sure if I answered any of your questions…


When you file a flight plan, it just sits in “the system” (an FAA computer) until an hour before departure time. At that point, it is supposed to print out a flight strip (small piece of paper) at the controlling agency for your departing air space. However, I’m told that it often doesn’t even do that until you call for your clearance. If you never call for your departure clearance, the flight plan is flushed from the system after an hour.

I’ve never had flight service or anyone else ask me to cancel my flight plan if I’m not going to use it, so it would seem that they don’t have a concern about it. I’ve also never gotten any complaints for filing a flight plan a few minutes before my departure, so it is my impression that it isn’t a big deal for them either. You can even file a flight plan in flight, though controllers may ask you to call Flight Service to file if they are too busy to do it themselves.


One important holiday note. During busy times at or near busy airports filing at the last minute can mean delays. This can also happen if you are late. I haven’t flown in the New York or So Cal areas but I hear you can build some idle time waiting for a clearance on bad weather days.

If you are going to an event like the Super Bowl, be on time!


Flight strip is created to the departure controller when it pretty much hits Flight Aware which is generally one hour before departure.

I was told usually to allow 20 minute lead time from filing to take off. So, you do a normal preflight, taxi and runup, that would easily eat into the 20 minute lead time. I have filed right before departing my house and by the time I am ready to pick up my clearance at the end of the taxiway / runway, departure has my flight strip.

In fact, if I file within a 1 hour window of my departure time, when I hang up the phone, it’s already in Flight Aware, the interface has been that qucik on my experiences.



Thanks, that pretty much answers my question. Everyone in the field seem so polite to one another but I see no-shows all the time for private aircraft and thought gee, don’t they call and cancel?

In a different situation, a friend filed a flight plan which included one stop, and a final destination. The flight never arrived at the first stop but instead diverted to another airport in a bordering state due to a minor emergency (cabin pressure), which I had found out about after the fact. Tracking the flight never included the diversion and the flight didn’t show up in the system again until they were about half way to the final destination. I was worried for a while knowing they had taken off but that “unknown” became their status for a while. Was just curious how that all works.