United Flight 878’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

United flight UA878 from Houston to Minneapolis diverted twice last night, never made it to Minneapolis (at least the ground there) and finished up after 3 a.m. with passengers waiting at baggage claim in Wisconsin.

The 7:40 p.m. departure was running late when the inbound aircraft from Cancun didn’t land in Houston until 7:31 p.m.

The Boeing 737-900 took off a couple of hours late. Bad weather in Minneapolis sent the plane to Madison, Wisconsin instead.

Then everyone took off again for Minneapolis. Or so they thought. United 878 made it to Minneapolis, circled, and was diverted again — this time to Green Bay where everyone would stay for the night… fortunately safely.

Here’s the route from Madison to Green Bay, the long way.

And here everyone is getting off the plane, relieved. And exhausted.

The idea of being sent to Wisconsin, involuntarily, twice in the same night is what Night Court had in mind in the mid-1980s when comparing the Soviet Union to Milwaukee.

When you open your eyes, you’re going to be in the middle of Milwaukee. No matter where you go, no matter how far you run, you’re still going to be in the middle of Milwaukee. You can get in a cab, and drive two hundred miles in any direction, and you’re still going to be in the middle of Milwaukee. You can get in an airplane, and fly two thousand miles, and you’re still…

They made it on the ground in Green Bay around 3:22 a.m. As if that’s not bad enough “the ground” isn’t the same thing as “staying on the runway” because the plane skidded off more than 100 feet past the runway and “it took 45 minutes to deplane in Green Bay.”

Here’s video from the aircraft as passengers got off the plane.

Imagine waiting for your checked luggage in Green Bay after all of this. They say though that any landing you walk away from is a good landing.

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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  1. What do people think would be appropriate comp for passengers on this flight?

    I’ll go first: $10,000 travel voucher plus a two-level status upgrade (eg all SIlvers on this flight become Platinum; all Golds become 1K)

  2. @Jason
    It’s weather. So while I feel bad for them, this isn’t entirely within the airline’s control. More realistically they should get 2x the cost of the flight + 10k miles. After all, not only did the airline not get them to their destination, they wasted time that could have been used with alternative travel means.

  3. Reminds me of Planes Trains and Automobiles. I can picture it now… Steve Martin, the last person to get on the plane, see’s a pair of empty seats on the very last row, the only empty seats, on the entire craft. As he gets situated, the chime sounds, the lights flicker and the plane pushes off. Martin’s tophat shields the cabin lights enough to doze off, while in total disbelief that his travelling buddy is no longer a part of his world.
    When his eyes open, still facing the darkened window, he notices the plane taxiing, and the captain announces they are cleared for takeoff… His adrenaline spikes uncontrollably stimulating him out of his catatonic state. Moments before, the unique sound of an airplane toilet flushed twice, not once, and that was when his adrenaline was first primed. Conserving his now limited energy and not needing to rotate his head, he predicted the next words that would be spoken. Just like a taxi cab driver is predicted to say, not ask, “Where to” the newly familiar voice says “Is this seat taken.”.
    Next scene: baggage claim, Madison WI.

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