Stranded In Siberia: Air France’s Nightmare Flight To Shanghai

Filed Under: Air France

Air France operates a daily service from Paris to Shanghai as flight AF116, using either a Boeing 777-300ER or Airbus A380 (depending on the day of the week).

Last Sunday evening, the flight departed with 282 passengers on board a Boeing 777. The plane did make it most of the way to Shanghai, but mid way through the flight, the crew noticed a strange acrid smell and smoke in the cabin, so the flight diverted to Irkutsk, Russia on Monday.

Engineers attempted to fix the problem with the plane, but realised the problem was not a quick fix, so the passengers were sent to a local hotel while a replacement aircraft was sent from Paris.

Seems like a pretty standard way to handle a diversion, right?

Well the passengers had some awful luck with this flight beyond the initial diversion.

  • Irkutsk airport does not have airside hotel rooms for almost 300 passengers. The passengers did not have Russian visas, so while they were allowed to enter the country for the purpose of staying in a hotel, they were accompanied by police the entire time and not allowed to leave the hotel.
  • The replacement aircraft landed in Irkutsk on Tuesday. Passengers boarded, but that aircraft then suffered its own mechanical problems so could not take off, so the passengers were taken off the aircraft and sent back into the cold to the hotel.
  • While the weather in both Paris and Shanghai was comparable — a maximum of between around 40 – 62 degrees Fahrenheit (9 – 16 C), the weather in Irkutsk (Siberia) was a freezing 11 F/-12 C degrees!
  • A third plane was able to eventually arrive in Irkutsk on Wednesday and carry the passengers the remaining distance to Shanghai, arriving 68 hours behind schedule.

Here is some footage of the plane and passengers at Irkutsk. Initially passengers were denied access to their checked luggage — notice how inappropriately some of the passengers are dressed for below freezing temperatures!

One passenger wrote on Twitter:

We are dirty, we smell, it is now over 30 hours that we are under house arrest, without a suitcase or passport.

Bottom line

Next time you have a delayed flight, think of these passengers being ferried around in the snow in Siberia without their checked luggage!

This is another reason to consider traveling hand luggage only wherever you can.

Have you even diverted to a different climate?

  1. That sucks big time. I always travel with 1 set of clothes in my handluggage so that I have fresh clothes. But, of course not for freezing temperatures if departing and arriving are normal.

  2. If I was travelling hand luggage only I’d be traveling so light chances are I wouldn’t have much in the way of warm clothing.

  3. Gotta feel for those passengers. James, you’re quite astute to put a ‘hand luggage’ spin to this story. About 18 years ago I was denied access to checked luggage when my plane went ‘tech’, necessitating an overnight stay in a foreign country. I vowed never to be caught out again! Since then, I’ve packed for not one, but two days worth of clothes in my hand luggage (it’s really not THAT much more compared to one day’s worth). Bad news is my plane has gone ‘tech’ at least seven times since 2000. Good news is, unlike most other fellow pax, I’ve been fully prepared and come out smelling like a daisy every time. Hand luggage with two days worth of clothes: trust it in!

  4. Chances are that even if people was traveling hand luggage only they would not have the right cloths anyway for Siberia.

    That said finding space for just under wear and a t-shirt in your hand luggage can help immensely with how you feel after an unscheduled night stop.

    The problem with traveling hand luggage only is that it does not work well for longer business trips where what you wear maters. Something Lucks and James seems to not understand.

  5. I think folks are making much ado about nothing. Mechanical issues with aircraft happen and not all that frequently when you consider how many flights operate. For safety’s sake they landed immediately where they could and attempted to make the situation as best as they could with the constraints the Russian government imposed on them. Passengers were in freezing temperatures. My God. They had to walk from the air stairs to a bus from the curb into the heated hotel. They could bathe and air out clothing. Yes absolutely no one wants to be in that situation. But they could’ve ignored the smell and the smoke and just carried on and we could’ve potentially seen another disaster like Swissair 111 or Air France 447. The fact folks had to wear the same clothes and endure winter weather… the horror.

  6. @ Eskimo — my trusty Jack Wills puffer jacket I have taken on this trip is great for cold climates and folds down into almost nothing!

  7. @James, do you happen to remember the specific style name of your jacket? The Jack Wills site shows several different puffer jackets in the men’s section.

  8. “Next time you have a delayed flight, think of these passengers being ferried around in the snow in Siberia without their checked luggage!

    “This is another reason to consider travelling hand luggage only wherever you can.”

    I always carry only 7-8kg, and I’ve always got that lightweight winter jacket from Decathlon (200g) that can also serve as a pillow in its small stuff sack.

    Because you could get stuck in Siberia or elsewhere when it’s freezing.

  9. @ Desi – I bought it almost three years ago so it’s probably not available for sale anymore.

    I’m a very big fan of Jack Wills products – it’s basically half my wardrobe.

  10. By the way, since it hasn’t been said, kudos to Air France for organising hotels and sorting out a solution to the visa problem.

  11. i always bring my suit and change of clothes with me for thay reason and since one time my bag was lost

  12. Not sure why some refer to Lucky (Ben) and the author’s style of travel to be short trip and is the only way to do carry-on only.

    My dad is an adventurous guy and low maintenance so he does only one backpack for a month trip.

    Me, not that low maintenance… and care about fashion .. yet only take carryon on all trips even for 3 weeks trips on itineraries like YVR-JFK-NRT-SYD-AKL-WLG-SYD-DXB-DOH-BKK-DEL-HYD-BKK-FRA-CDG-JFK-YVR in international F for example.

    Since some of my longer trips covers hot and cold places, 3 Michelin star meals, street food and markets, beach resorts etc, I packed things that appropriate for all these
    – 2 different color 3 piece suits
    – 1-2 jeans
    – 5-6 t-shirts or polos
    – 2-3 shirts
    – 2-3 swim trunks
    – 1 sweater
    – selection of ties
    – 2 colored belt, each side matches leather shoes
    – 2 different color leather shoes
    – 1 sneakers
    – 1 hiking shoes
    – 1 sandles
    – put all socks inside the shoes
    – put meds or hair gel or contact lens solution inside the plastic bags inside shoes
    – laptop camera documents are in the smaller bags…
    – only one winter coat that I have to carry with me when indoor … but it’s better to not having to wait for check bags

    So I manage to put all these into carryon only… not sure what people who check their bags bring?? Maybe they carry gifts for others … which I only do small gift if I do

  13. Smoke in an aircraft cabin, at cruise, or any other time, is bad news. Instead of whining about the cold, I think that the crew did a fantastic job in safely getting the aircraft on the ground. Luckily, it happened over land, not water. Mechanical issues happen. The pilots and cabin crew did a great job. Landing at an abandoned Russian military airport, on ice, was not planned. Quit complaining. At least there was a hotel and food.

  14. I was in Irkutsk for a week in March as part of the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission. (Irkutsk Oblast is not controlled by Putin’s party and therefore the election was to normal international standards.). The hotels there are fine. It was -20 Centigrade when the plane door opened. It is most definitely not a major international airport. There were flights (at least one weekly) to either Tokyo/Seoul, Ulan Bator, Bangkok – think, and probably a few cities in China — plus the daily flight to Moscow. As for the discussion about carrying clothes in a carry-on, yes, I do carry a change of essentials — but keep in mind that not everyone is 5’7″ or so — those of us that are built like professional football players (6’3″) can’t carry 3 weeks of clothing in carry-on!

  15. It’s called a puffer jacket. Packs into nothing. Paris isn’t warm right now. The hotel had soap. Have a spare pair of undies and socks in your carry on. Thank god there was no in-flight fire. This was not a nightmare, it was an inconvenience! Everyone is safe and alive. Most people will remember this as their trip to Siberia!

  16. @Concorde02
    That’s all very good and fine, but there are not many airlines where all that will pack within the actual carry on allowance, mainly in terms of weight but I suspect also for size. Not talking about actual space in the overheads, but actual rules for carry on.
    I have spare underwear, socks and a t-shirt in my carry on. Allowing for some level of a refresh on a delay. The rest goes in the hold so in don’t have to drag it through the airport. If I can make do with a small business backpack as carry on I am most happy.

  17. @Concorde02
    You must be a very small person with very small feet. You list packing 5 pairs of shoes in a carry-on, along with two full suits, sweater, 9 shirts, 3 swim suits, etc.— but mostly 5 pairs of shoes?? Are you an elf? If I packed even 2 pairs of shoes in my carry-on, I would no longer have room for my laptop.

  18. It’s not that big of a deal, you are on the ground be thankful. It’s also Fall/Winter soon so most in the video had on warm clothing and looked fine. No one was rushing into the hotel and some were chatting outside. IF without a coat you hold a piece of clothing to your chest/throat and will not catch cold.

    GEOX also sell a “puffer” jacket without the puff until needed…reacts to your body temp! You’d never know from the look of it and it folds down to nothing. A worthy purchase for around 200EUR, although I got mine on sale for 99EUR.

    I carry 1-2 pairs of underwear and a t-shirt in my checked luggage, only once in over 1000 flights did I get stranded on my way back and was actually out of underwear. I just washed them in the hotel sink using the hand soap, and hung them over a lamp to dry!

  19. Eugh… Jack Wills – explains a lot… With regards to what happened – as others have said I always carry some spare clothes and layers in my hand-luggage, I really don’t understand people who don’t do this. My strategy for packing is that anything valuable or essential including any medication goes in my hand luggage and I prepare for the worst case scenario…

  20. Since I never check bags anyway, this would not have affected me. It stuns me how much crap some people travel with.

    If needs be I get clothes laundered while away, or buy what I need there.

    i also have no problem wearing the same clothes for 48-72 hours, but then I don’t smell or sweat a lot like some people

  21. I wonder if they were more flexible for those with Russian Visas. I know my NZ issued APEC Business travel card allows me to enter both Russia and China.

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