A week after a United flight diverted to Goose Bay and put up passengers in military barracks while crew stayed in hotel rooms, another United flight diverts to Belfast and leaves passengers to sleep on the airport floor.
United 971 from Rome to Chicago turned around as it hit the Atlantic on Saturday.
The flight diverted to offload a disruptive passenger.
A spokesman for the Police Service of Northern Ireland said the male passenger accused of being disruptive was in custody at a police station in Antrim but could not provide further details.
Sliter said he heard from fellow passengers that the man had allegedly been “extremely verbally abusive” to a woman even before he boarded the flight in Rome.
“While he was on the flight he had constantly gone to the bathroom to change his shirt four or five times and was staring at people in a creepy way. My understand is that an air marshal notified the flight attendants who spoke with the captain who chose to land.”
Then by the time the plane got back on the runway and prepared to depart, pilots were 2 minutes over their maximum duty time which would have allowed them to proceed.
“At one point the crew were serving ice creams and sorbets to passengers. We were taxying out to leave, refueled, we were on the main runway – then the captain announced it was two minutes over the time they could do time in cockpit due to federal work regulations. People thought he was joking.”
I’m not going to second guess the decision to divert. I don’t have the facts regarding the passenger in question, though with hindsight and full information it may turn out to have been a poor choice overall (or at least to divert to Belfast).
United didn’t provide hotel rooms, saying they tried but couldn’t find availability.
“The captain indicated that they had tried extremely hard and called multiple places but that there were not many hotel rooms available,” he said.
I’m skeptical that there were no lodging solutions available. There may have been none available out of a handful tried, that were nearest to the airport, that could accommodate large chunks of passengers rather than splitting up into several groups, or that would have extended credit to United.
I don’t think it’s wise to rely on the airline in these sorts of situations, though, find your own lodging and worry about reimbursement later, you can look to the airline (what a story it would be, ‘airline diverts to Belfast and won’t cover hotel cost while claiming no hotels were available’) and also to the credit card used to purchase tickets.
The key here though is communication. In the case of the Goose Bay diversion, as well as this one, the primary complaint of passengers is lack of information.
These are difficult situations. The pilot and airline makes a decision to get the plane on the ground, and they pick a spot based on a variety of factors and do so without perfect information. So I don’t tend to second guess that.
But in general, this incident aside, airlines, airports, and governments need to all be better reacting when these situations occur.
- Getting immigration and security processes up and running, or implementing a plan that waives some of those requirements within a specified area so that passengers can not only get off the plane but be taken to an area of reasonable comfort where they receive access to needed amenities.
- Providing information and reassurance. Airlines have contact information for the vast majority of passengers. They can call, email and text. They can assign a response team to take contact from passengers and answer questions, even if the answer is just ‘we’re working on it’, to reduce some of the uncertainty that makes the situation that much more difficult.
Lack of information is a common theme across events like this. Greater certainty, recognizing that these are rapidly developing situations, would help passengers not just know what to expect but also know how to plan. Should they stay by the gate? Should they find their own hotel room? When should they be back at the airport? Where can they get real and reliable updates?
These incidents aren’t especially common, but they are common enough that airlines should invest in better procedures.