United Passengers Stranded for More Than 14 Hours on Plane at Frigid Canadian Airfield

Jan 21, 2019

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Passengers aboard a United Airlines flight bound for Hong Kong from Newark (EWR) were stranded for more than 14 hours at a frigid Canadian airfield after the flight diverted after just four hours in the air. While diversions are rare, flights are usually back up and airborne in a matter of a hours. However, United Airlines flight UA179 experienced another complication as the flight prepared to take off following the diversion. According to CNN, the flight experienced mechanical issues, which stranded more than 200 passengers in Newfoundland.

United Airlines flight UA179 departed Newark (EWR) at 3:21pm, less than 20 minutes after the flight’s scheduled departure time. The Boeing 777-200ER climbed out of Newark and leveled off at 33,000 feet. While the flight departed a few minutes past schedule, favorable winds would have put the flight in Hong Kong a few minutes early, however, the flight experienced its first incident as it neared the southern tip of Greenland. Around 3 hours and 40 minutes into the flight, the Boeing 777 made a left turn back towards North America.

United Airlines flight UA179 turns back towards North America to divert as a result of a medical emergency (Image via Flightradar24)
United Airlines flight UA179 turns back towards North America to divert as a result of a medical emergency (Image via Flightradar24)

A passenger onboard the flight reportedly suffered medical complications that were serious enough to force the aircraft to divert. The aircraft diverted to Goose Bay Airport (YYR) in Newfoundland. After the aircraft landed, the passenger, who required medical assistance, was taken to a local hospital and the flight prepared to take back off to continue on to Hong Kong. It was at this time that the crew discovered an issue with one of the aircraft’s doors. The flight was forced to remain at the airfield until the issue could be resolved.

Because United Airlines does not operate regularly scheduled flights into the small Newfoundland airport, the aircraft was stranded at the airport until mechanics could be sent to the airport to resolve the issue. Unfortunately for passengers, Goose Bay Airport was unable to allow passengers to disembark, as there was not a customs agent available at the time. This meant that passengers would be forced to wait onboard until a customs agent, mechanic or replacement aircraft arrived at the airport.

According to CNN and multiple reports on social media, the wait exceeded 14 hours. Lloyd Slade was one of the passengers who took to Twitter to share his account of the nightmare diversion. He noted that though he was tired, the crew was handling the delay very well. He did, however, call out United’s operations team for its poor response to the incident. Another passenger, Sonjay Dutt, shared a photo of the aircraft on the ramp following the overnight delay.

As the aircraft sat at the airport overnight, temperatures dropped to -21 F. Though it was well below zero outside of the passenger cabin, the original aircraft had fuel for the 13+ hour flight to Hong Kong, which meant the crew was able to keep the aircraft warm throughout the night. Though temperatures didn’t drop to unbearable levels, passengers tweeted that the flight was almost out of food and that passengers were hungry. United Airlines reportedly coordinated with Goose Bay Airport officials to have the famous Canadian donut shop, Tim Hortons, bring food to the aircraft. Sunday morning, passengers aboard the stranded airliner were treated to donuts and coffee as United sent a recovery aircraft to bring stranded passengers back to Newark.

The recovery aircraft, United Airlines flight UA2758, departed Newark a few minutes before 9am and landed in Goose Bay at 11:51am. Aboard the aircraft was a replacement crew and four United mechanics. According to the United Airlines app, the four mechanics were “upgraded” to business class on the recovery flight. After mechanics boarded the stranded airliner, passengers from UA179 boarded the recovery aircraft. The recovery flight bound for Newark departed Goose Bay at 3:53pm, more than 14 hours after landing at the Canadian airport. United Airlines flight UA8179 landed in Newark a little before 6pm.

The United Airlines recovery flight (Image via Flightradar24)
The United Airlines recovery flight (Image via Flightradar24)

Following the overnight diversion, many passengers decided to not continue on to Hong Kong. Others were accommodated on other United and Star Alliance flights and continued on to Hong Kong. United issued the following apology saying, “We apologize to our customers and our crew is doing everything possible to assist them during the delay.” As of 9pm EST Sunday, the original aircraft is still stuck in Goose Bay and is expected to return to Newark Monday morning.


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Featured image via Philip Earle @Philipearle on Twitter

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