Germany – Seattle Flight Had to Turn Back Around Because US Immigration Was Closed

Last summer Eurowings — Lufthansa’s low cost carrier — started flying non-stop between Cologne, Germany and Seattle twice weekly. At first it seemed like they were receiving a warm welcome into the market. That didn’t hold true this week, though.

The Eurowings flight at the beginning of the week was forced to turn around while it was still over Iceland and head back to Germany — because they learned that they wouldn’t be welcome on arrival, and they couldn’t come up with an alternative arrival city.

Eurowings had cancelled their Saturday flight and then Monday’s flight was delayed by nearly 9 hours.

It’s shocking to me that,

  • US customs and immigration isn’t available 24 hours a day in Seattle, even on a standby basis. After all flights could have to divert in an emergency.
  • Eurowings didn’t realize this, and didn’t check that they’d be able to land prior to departure.

Passengers were none too pleased.

(HT: @Ricardo_UAFlyer)

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. The Eurowings flight is scheduled to get in around 3pm, even with some delay they would be there by 6pm.

    There is a GDL and MEX flight scheduled at 8-9pm so the customs story definitely seems to be fake news.

  2. Euro wings must find out US Customs hours beforehand and they must have an alternate airport in case of emergency. Totally Euro Wing’s fault.

  3. “It’s shocking to me that,US customs and immigration isn’t available 24 hours a day in Seattle, even on a standby basis. After all flights could have to divert in an emergency.” – why is that shocking? There are apparently no other international flights during that window so why should we pay to have them there? Apparently this airline couldn’t be bothered to confirm all this in advance of scheduling these flights.

  4. This ‘bad’ is on the airline. They’ve been flying to Seattle since last year and know the ropes. EW168 is operated on behalf of Eurowings by a contractor Sun Express. Some sloppy work on Eurowings part. And I’m due to fly them in a couple of weeks into the U.S. Here’s hoping.

  5. “There are apparently no other international flights during that window so why should we pay to have them there? ”

    Hmmm, the passenger pay for that ‘service’ on their ticket:
    U.S. International Arrival. Tax
    U.S. Customs Fees
    Immigration Fee

    So the airline passenger is indeed the customer and you could argue that with a 10 hour advance notice, they could set up at least one immigration booth at SEA. But of course, with civil servants, this is not going to happen…

    Remind me of the time we arrived NRT-EWR in the mid afternoon and there was no immigration officer. All of them on break apparently while we waited 25min for a booth to open. As if they had no advance notice of an early arrival of the UA aircraft on a 12hr flight.

    That sure is a change when coming straight from Japan.

  6. Shame on Eurowings! Do they think the entire customs and border patrol runs on their schedule? They should be banned from further flights unless they are willing to pay a 25% tariff on all tickets issued.

  7. “It’s shocking to me that,US customs and immigration isn’t available 24 hours a day in Seattle, even on a standby basis. After all flights could have to divert in an emergency.”

    I would be shocked if a government employee would even consider actually being a civil servant.

  8. A friend of mine was in this flight. Forced to get to FRA and hope for standby on LH. They got home 2 days late.

  9. The Eurowings flight is supposed to come in around 3pm so even with some delay they would have gotten there by 6pm.
    There is a GDL and a MEX flight arriving at 8/9pm so the claim that customs was closed seems like fake news to me. I think Eurowings used this as a convenient excuse. At any major airport CBP is usually around from 5am-9pm.

  10. the lesson here is to never take a lowcost carrier on an intercontinental flight, because if things go wrong, you’re totally screwed and they won’t help you.
    Obviously if Eurowings really wanted they could have arranged a slot at LAX or SFO or another airport on the west coast and rebooked passengers onward. Or, you know, checked before departure that the new landing time would be ok with immigration.

    Also, no, immigration isn’t open 24/7 almost anywhere, even at JFK – once had to wait on a plane (LH, heavily delayed) 3 hours until immigration was open. There usually are at least a few hours when they close at night, and at smaller airports (and SEA is small in terms of international service) the opening hours will be more restricted.
    Finally, money talks, if Eurowings was serious they could probably have paid the overtime etc to open immigration. But, they’re cheap in everything they do.

  11. SEA is no lightweight when it comes to international arrivals which require customs as they have more than 30 a day. That is more than PHL and I know customs is open from about 5.30am-9pm there.
    Volaris has a 9pm arrival so you’d expect that flight to be regularly canceled or diverted since CBP left for the day.

  12. So in this case, which rules apply, EU or US with regards to compensation? The EU compensation looks worlds apart from ours and I was treated great when they had problems there…in the US you have to worry about being treated crappy then being arrested if you complain you aren’t treated right.

  13. Gus is right. And it seems Skanet [sic] & Skaner need a whole lot of help with remedial math: a 9-hour delay on a flight arriving at 3pm puts them in at 12am. So yeah, CBP was gone for the day. What are you going to do? Wake people up and tell them to drive in to process the flight? Maybe for an emergency diversion, but not for EuroWings being dumbasses. This is Eurowings’ fault, plain and simple.

    It’s not fake news, Skaner has fake brains (ergo the poor reading comprehension).

  14. It has been my experience that U.S. Customs will stay open for a very late arriving flight so long as the airline will pay for the overtime of the customs agents.

  15. No surprise to me to hear this about Eurowings. I refuse to every fly them again after my experience this past July flying Berlin/Cologne-Bonn. Since they’re a LH subsidiary I thought they’d adhere to the same professionalism but they’re a typical, lousy low-cost carrier. Upon landing in TXL after flying UA EWR/TXL, I saw my flight was cancelled. They hadn’t protected me on another flight & I had to walk a mile in TXL airport to their service counter to be re-booked. When I finally arrived in CGN my suitcase wasn’t there. Filed a claim, had to ask for an amenity kit & was told when I asked for a phone number to be able to check on the status of my luggage that “no one answers the phone anyway”, After 35+ hours my suitcase was delivered to my hotel in Bonn. I am STILL, 11 weeks later, waiting for compensation from Eurowings. Their excuse when I contact them is that there were so many delays and strikes this summer that they’re delayed in their responses. Pitiful!

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