The Unluckiest Flight: American Hong Kong – Los Angeles Diverted Twice Yesterday

A year and a half ago I called United’s San Francisco – Sydney New Years Eve service the unluckiest flight after smoke in the cockpit caused a diversion to Hawaii, and then a bird strike during the diversion took the plane out of service even the next day.

However Wednesday’s American Airlines flight AA192 was its own kind of unlucky: a double diversion.

Flying Hong Kong – Shanghai – Honolulu – Los Angeles turns out only to be about an extra 1000 miles of flying, though it’s a lot of extra time on the ground.

An American spokesperson tells me that they diverted to Shanghai due to a medical emergency: “The ill passenger, and a relative, went to the hospital.” (It seems that unfortunately neither this doctor nor Tim Tebow were onboard to successfully treat the issue inflight.)

At that point they knew that they “didn’t have enough crew time to fly to Los Angeles” — there are only so many hours that the same crew can fly. So they had a choice to make:

  • Overnight in Shanghai

  • Fly on to the United States but not all the way to Los Angeles

Not everyone onboard would be eligible for transit without visa in Shanghai, so the choice was really do they force some passengers to stay overnight in the terminal?

It seems to me American made the right choice under the circumstances to fly to Hawaii. Since everyone on the flight was eligible to clear immigration in the U.S. no one would have to stay in the terminal, and American would be able to put everyone up in hotel rooms. American’s spokesperson says “we had already secured enough hotel rooms for all passengers” before the plane arrived in Hawaii.

Passengers aren’t home yet. They’re continuing today Honolulu – Los Angeles as flight AA9240, a common practice to rename the flight so that there aren’t two AA192s in the air at the same time (as the next day’s flight will be enroute from Hong Kong).

Some customers who were traveling to destinations beyond Los Angeles were rebooked onto other flights via Dallas and Phoenix, and others did manage to get rebooked earlier to Los Angeles. In total 88 passengers were re-accommodated on other aircraft, while the rest continue to LAX today.

I don’t remember the last double diversion I noticed, it’s rare and unfortunate for all the passengers on the flight. But when you’ve got a medical emergency that takes precedence, and on ultra long haul flights you can easily face crew limits which are regulations in place for safety. So an airline makes the best decision possible when faced with tough choices, and this one is tough to second guess.

Ultimately an airline-paid hotel room in Hawaii is a better place to spend the night than inside the terminal in Shanghai.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Now American didn’t really need to give a shit about people. But they did. It wouldnt be enough for some super entitled people though.

  2. I guess I don’t understand the flight crew hours worked rules. On most long haul flights like this I’ve always seen the pilots and other crew members take naps and/or long breaks in business or first class. I always assumed they had to have extra crew members to account for the long flying hours. So on a flight like this to have the crew time out seems odd to me.

  3. Do the math. Flying time is about 13.5 hours, add in the time it takes for people to leave the plane, get on the plane, and setting up for everything that’s a 15hr work day bare minimum. Let alone adding in a diversion. Even with breaks, no one is taking a 12hr break. How long do you expect people to be on their feet for? Even with “extra” crew members which don’t happen because that’s cost prohibitive.

  4. @DaninMCI the flight duty time rules are complicated — On longhaul and ultralonghaul flights, these limits are extended on the assumption that crew will take rest breaks. However, there is still an absolute limit. I think the most it can ever be is 19 hours for an augmented crew (ie, overstaffed so there are rest breaks). I guess the key to answering your question is that flight time doesn’t stop because a particular pilot is resting. Time starts at “report time” and continues for the entire crew for the duration of the flight. (The fastest I ever saw a US airline board was when there was a long delay and the gate announced the crew would time out if we couldn’t push back within 20 min)

  5. On my way to Europe Christmas last year, my flight was canceled three times in a row. It was with 3 different airlines too. The fault was due to the engineer problems so I got some nice EUR compensation.

  6. Isn’t Shanghai one of the Chinese cities allowing 3 days transit if flying to a 3rd country? In this case, HKG – PVG – LAX should qualify.
    btw, I am not disagreeing with AA’s decision. Just curious.

  7. Give AA credit, at least they didn’t leave the passengers stranded on the tarmac for 6 hours without air conditioning or food as was the case with a recent flight to Canada that was diverted to Ottawa. No 3-hour rule, eh?

  8. FAA has max flight hour, crew augmentation rules. Some airlines have their own that exceed the FAA rules. For example when USAir had their Rome-PHL (which I flew on a few times in J and sat next to a pilot) and TLV-PHL they had an extra pilot, but didn’t have to.

  9. Smart move by AA given the circumstances. If I was a pax here, I would have appreciated that decision in light of the other choices. Nice work, AA.

  10. @FNT Delta Diamond first AA doesn’t fly to Guam and second my guess would be that even if they did there are more AA resources in Honolulu (crew, maintenance, options for rebooking, hotel space) to handle the Passengers.

  11. Any nationality is allowed a visa-free 24 hour transit in Shanghai. 63 nationalities are allowed a 72-hour visa-free transit.

  12. @MarkS – They’re allowed visa free transit, but to leave the airport there are several countries where a temporary stay permit is required to be issued on arrival.

  13. Gary, interestingly the China visa website states “All Nationalities” are allowed direct 24 hours transit. However digging a little deeper apparently Taiwanese have to have a special China visa to enter. No surprise there I guess. British, Hong Kong and Macau holders have to have a home return permit as well.

  14. Spouse and I had a triple diversion with United in 2001. We made the tv world news. Turbulence after several hours out of Sydney. Injuries. . Return to Auckland. Next day, out a few hours.Mechanical issue. Return to Auckland. Next day, landing gear malfunction a couple hours out. Dump fuel. Return to Auckland. Met with a field of emergency equipment.
    Had enough. Went back to Sydney. Tried again the two following Saturdays. Both went mechanical before we even boarded. On the SIXTH try we made it back to the US. Compensation? Two cattle class tix for future. Don’t fly them anymore.

  15. Look at the bright side. Those collecting BA tier points will earn more because of the two flight numbers. Lol.

  16. A terminal stay at PVG overnight would have been a nightmare, if you combine the actual terminal, with it’s 1970’s Stalinist-inspired ‘archtitecture’ with matching officials and other assorted airport personnel. Hawaii would be much more fun.

  17. Last summer LAX-Shanghai, diverted to Anchorage for medical emergency. Rather than continue to Tokyo, we retraced 3 hours back to ANC for what was supposed to be quick stop and then back in the air. By the time we arrived, it turned into an overnight with early am departure and later continually delayed until 5pm (24 hours). Never did get any explanation as to the delays nor even an apology or any direct communication from AA. Phone reps knew nothing. Airport staff only worked the flight hours, no local personnel. An Alaska tour guide was our only point of contact. The hotels were far less than minimal standards (like $25 a night roadside motor inn), no cell service (standing outside in dirty alley overrun with rats in the rain hoping to occasional roaming), no internet, and food was limited to fried hotel bar food, not vouchers, while crew went to modern hotels like Hilton, Marriott, Sheraton, etc. just a few blocks away. No way to contact home, hotels, Shanghai business, etc. Not credited for the extra miles flown either, only the original flight miles. By all “standards” they accommodated all the passengers and “found us hotels” but it was one of the worst 24 hours I’ve ever spent. AA EXP in paid F not given anything more than pax with cheap deep discount economy and basically AA couldn’t have cared less.

  18. @gary leff – this brings back good memories of observing the DFW ops center at OWMD. They really are on top of extraordinary situations from the corporate operations center in times like this. With great intensity and attention to detail.

  19. While this appears like AA made some “good” decisions, I’m going to push back a bit… I thinking AA had enough notice to do something else. If the PVG-HNL flight took 8h25m (per FlightAware) flying time and arrived into HNL mid-afternoon, I’m curious why AA didn’t deadhead a crew on airport reserve or quick call over to HNL from another base to work the HNL-LAX sector (and minimize the overall delay even if the HNL departure would be delayed a bit waiting for a new crew). It’s the start of a new month and crews are low on hours, so why not avoid the overnighting costs and pax disruptions and pushing a 77W aircraft out of position? I recognize that there might only be 77W pilots based at DFW but wouldn’t there still be options to get a new crew to HNL and reduce the overall delay and disruption rather than give the existing crew rest and use them to fly the last leg?

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