American Airlines London Passengers Make Day Long Journey To Nowhere
Thursday night’s Philadelphia – London Heathrow flight 728 became a day long journey to nowhere all day Friday as the aircraft, first delayed for three hours, finally took off in the wee hours of Friday morning before making it nearly halfway over the Atlantic… and turning around.
When a passenger had a medical emergency, the plane made a u-turn and headed for Gander in Newfoundland, Canada.
Passengers reported no food and water on the ground, though after several hours water was provided. Very limited seating was available. Eventually after much of the day there they returned to Philadelphia. And to make matters worse from the perspective of those on board maybe the whole ordeal was unnecessary?
The plane wasn’t all the way halfway across the Atlantic, and the crew and airline are working with limited information.
- If a medical situation presents that could be life-threatening, they need to seek medical care right away.
- If a passenger situation presents that could be a danger to the aircraft, they may want to be on the ground as soon as possible.
But they’re dealing with uncertainties. How bad is the medical issue? They get guidance from the ground. How risky is this passenger? It may be that this diversion wasn’t necessary, but no airline wants to divert. It’s not just a bad customer experience, it’s expensive. There’s wasted staff time and fuel, they still need to fly these passengers (or refund them), and it may mean cancelling other flights too.
At the same time it does seem like there were real failures at the airline. Very little was communicated to passengers. Sometimes, facing a real threat, you want to limit communication. You also want to limit panic. And you’ll turn off the moving map blaming a technical issue so that everyone on board remains (relatively) in the dark. But absent that, there likely wasn’t enough communication early. And then even in the middle of the night it’s incumbent on a major world airline to be prepared to receive passengers at primary diversion airports.
Gander is no stranger to diverted planes. A Tony Award-winning Broadway musical (“Come From Away”) was even written about Gander diversions. Thirty eight planes with over 7,000 passengers landed there on 9/11 when aircraft were ordered to the ground. Residents of the town housed and fed the passengers. Continental Airlines used to run so many transatlantic flights with Boeing 757s which couldn’t make the trip Westbound across the Pond in significant headwinds that the carrier used to be said to operate a hub at Gander.