Airlines Can Do Better During Long Delays. Here’s How.

An Air France A380 stranded passengers in Manchester for nearly 7 hours.

The New York – Paris flight carrying 460 people suffered a 4 hour de-icing delay on departure. As a result of the four hour delay, crew exceeded their maximum flying hours. This was a fact that Air France knew would happen prior to departure through simple math. If no one at the airline was paying attention, the crew themselves were certainly aware. And Manchester was 2 hours past allowable hours, but the final leg to Paris would have apparently been too far over.

The aircraft touched down at 11:30 am (UK time) and that is where it happened. Six and a half hours on the grounded plane with reported no food or water.

Air France had originally told passengers it would send a new crew to fly the plane onto its destination. However, while pre-flight checks were being carried out a technical fault was then discovered in the cabin. The airline then said it would fly three extra planes (two Airbus A318s and an A320) over to collect the passengers, but these relief aircraft took hours to arrive. After being eventually let off the double decker A380, passengers were taken to a waiting room near departures, where they say around 50 burgers were provided.

Eventually 13 passengers who live in the UK, and were connecting home via Paris, were allowed to stay.. including a woman who lives down the road from the Manchester airport, who of course was stuck airside for more than 6 hours.


  • This outcome couldn’t have been better than continuing the short additional distance to Paris.
  • This could have happened to any airline, in fact it does every year or so at least.
  • While the US has tarmac delay rules, those punish airlines for what’s often the fault of weather, airport facilities, and customs and immigration services (in fact, frequently a combination of those when you get these sort of delays).
  • Since these events are recurring there should be learning, rather than just fines to airlines, with better preparedness on the part of airports and immigration.
  • There should be a decent holding area for those that immigration cannot process, an emergency immigration setup, and passengers allowed (at the very least at their own expense) to leave the terminal and seek accommodation elsewhere.
  • 50 hamburgers for more than 450 people after six hours, that’s like Lord of the Flies. I’ve personally catered a full 757 from inside the terminal, a domestic pier with food establishments closing, so I know more than 50 burgers are possible.

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, 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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  1. I think the biggest problem is what you pointed out in the beginning. Simple 3rd grade math can tell you hours in advance when a crew is going to time out, but the airlines don’t seem to do anything until the crew actually times out. If airlines acted to minimize the inconvenience when they first know (or should have known) the inevitable is going to happen, then these issues would be much less egregious.

    I disagree with you however, about delay rules punishing airlines for what is not their fault. The airline should be fined and the fines should get higher with each repeat occurrence until they start actually taking steps to avoid these issues. The only language airline executives know is money.

    This situation (and most other similar situations) are entirely the airlines fault. They knew before the flight left New York that the crew was going to time out, but chose to do nothing. Similarly they have chosen not to have processes in place to identify these situations, account for weather delays, handle passengers that are in a different country than expected, or whatever other situation causes the problem.

  2. To be fair, that was a hub airport with all the food (which was decent) for catering the plane. Manchester is a spoke airport.

  3. Actually @Phil, I’d be tempted to argue that the only languages airline executives will know are either (a) being blacklisted from ever holding an executive position; (b) dismissal along with confiscation of most or all discharge benefits, e.g. pension; or (c) imprisonment.

    I also wonder to what degree do airports sometimes have to bear both responsibility as well as partly empathy in order to help prevent such incidents from blowing out. Not to defend Air France, though they were dealing in two outstations – JFK and then MAN – where they would only have direct control from station officers and then only whatever contract companies do their ground services, plus the airport authority. I’d imagine many things given if those other companies didn’t play ball it would make it hard on AF (or any airline at an outstation for that matter).

  4. “an emergency immigration setup, and passengers allowed (at the very least at their own expense) to leave the terminal and seek accommodation elsewhere.”

    Calling in immigration staff on short notice is easier said than done.

    Further, allowing pax to leave only works if pax waive their onward journey. Having to make security accommodations for rejoining the flight would invariably cause further delays, impacting all pax. Even if they weren’t returning, should this be allowed if the pax had checked bags?

  5. With all due respect Gary, this was an excellent operational plan which unfortunately went wrong when the A380 went tech in Manchester.

    When crew ran short of duty hours in JFK to complete the flight to CDG, there were 2 choices. First was to cancel flight in JFK for crew to get minimum rest in New York (minimum of 13 hours delay will result), or the second to fly the plane to a point where a relief crew can take over. They chose the latter. The aircraft and relief crew both arrived in Manchester, but then the aircraft had a technical problem. If the aircraft did not have a tech problem, it would have continued to Paris with the new crew and made it there around 6 hours late (4 hrs of which were due to de-icing delays in New York). The subsequent delays came about due to having to send THREE relief aircraft and crews from Paris to Manchester to pick up the A380 worth of passengers.

    They made the right operational judgements with the information available at each stage. Unfortunately, weather, regulations and mechanical issues conspired against them. I guarantee though that if Air France had simply chosen to cancel the flight in JFK, the same people would be complaining about the 15 hour delay that they had to encounter at JFK rather than the 7 hour one that they encountered in Manchester.

  6. @Seam M “Unfortunately, weather, regulations and mechanical issues conspired against them.” my point EXACTLY. I’m not blaming airlines for all these sorts of issues. Airports need to do better and so do customs/security. It’s a mistake to blame it on airlines, we need to demand solutions from the other entities that create these issues.

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