Delta Operated Not One, But Two 'Flights to Nowhere' Tuesday Night
Remember a couple of weeks ago when ANA flew an 8-hour "flight to nowhere" from LAX to LAX? Well, not to be outdone, Delta operated two back-to-back flights from ATL to ATL Tuesday evening.
The original Delta flight 284 from ATL to London's Heathrow (LHR) pushed back 35 minutes late from ATL's international terminal and took off 15 minutes later. However, around Greenville, South Carolina, the flight leveled out at 29,000 feet. Then, shortly after passing Spartanburg, South Carolina, the aircraft made a wide turn to return to ATL. The aircraft landed safely about an hour after takeoff.
Both the crew and passengers reported hearing loud banging once in the air. Passenger Alex Brown told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that it sounded "like someone dropping a lead ball on the floor." According to Delta's statement to TPG:
The flight crew of Delta flight 284 from Atlanta to London, Heathrow elected to return to Atlanta out of an abundance of caution when an abnormal noise was observed on the aircraft.
Multiple media outlets are reporting that the flight declared an emergency. Emergency declarations are reserved for immediate life-threatening situations such as an on-board fire or loss of aircraft control. However, the pilots never entered code 7700 in the aircraft's transponder — which would be the normal procedure for an emergency. Instead, the pilots may have declared Pan-Pan, which indicates the aircraft has a serious situation and needs landing priority.
As a precaution, emergency crews were on hand for the flight's landing — as was live-streamed by Atlanta's Fox affiliate:
Delta happened to have another Boeing 767-400ER in reserve in Atlanta, put the passengers from the previous plane on it, and went for another attempt at DL284 from Atlanta to London. As succinctly put by the Delta statement "the subsequent flight returned to Atlanta without incident due to a similar observation."
We asked Delta how the DL284 passengers will get to Heathrow. Turns out, the passengers are going to be reaccommodated on another Delta flight. From FlightAware flight records, it looks like this flight will be Delta flight 9884 departing ATL at 6:00pm Wednesday.
While it's not necessarily uncommon for a plane to return to its origin, the odds have to be a lot smaller for that to happen in back-to-back flights. Hopefully, the third time is a charm.