FAIL: Swedish Airline Flies To Wrong Destination Due To Miscommunication

Filed Under: Other Airlines

Once in a while we hear stories of passengers ending up on flights to the wrong destination. This can happen for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they accidentally book a ticket to Sydney, Canada, rather than Sydney, Australia. Sometimes operations break down and somehow someone ends up on a flight that’s not to their intended destination. And sometimes you have people who intentionally sneak onto the wrong flight.

However, this story is the first time I can recall an entire plane flying to the wrong destination. No, this isn’t a case where a pilot accidentally landed at another airport that was a few miles from the intended destination, or where there was a medical or mechanical diversion. Instead a miscommunication led to the flight being operated to a destination in the completely opposite direction.

34 passengers traveling on Nextjet (which is one of Sweden’s largest regional airlines) landed hundreds of miles from their intended destination after they all got on the wrong flight, through no fault of their own. The passengers were departing from Sundsvall in central Sweden yesterday, intending to fly to Gothenburg, on the west coast. But instead they ended up in Luleå, in the far north. As you can see in the map below, they flew in exactly the wrong direction, and ended up over 600 miles from their intended destination.

So, how did this happen? The airline had been forced to cancel their flight to Gothenburg due to bad weather, though it seems that passengers (and at least some ground staff) never found out about that. Instead the passengers had only been told that their flight was delayed, and their 5PM flight started boarding at 8PM.

The crew operating the flight was intending to go to Luleå all along, so they operated the flight as planned, and the passengers just had an unpleasant surprise on landing. On top of that, the passengers who had been intending to fly to Luleå were left behind.

Based on a story by The Local SE, it sounds like at least some of the passengers took the situation in stride:

“I just laughed. What can you do?” passenger Roger Leirvik told Aftonbladet.

Nextjet apologized for the incident. “It appears to have been a huge miss in communications between the airport in Sundsvall and us,” said its marketing director Henning Lindberg.

The passengers spent the night in a hotel in Luleå and were to be flown to Gothenburg on Tuesday.

What a hilarious screw up. I still can’t fully wrap my head around how this all happened. I could see passengers boarding the wrong flight, but at no point did the flight attendant or pilots say “welcome aboard this flight to Luleå?” I guess they didn’t, but it just takes a comedy of errors for something to go this wrong. I guess that’s why it’s so rare.

(Tip of the hat to Rene’s Points, featured image courtesy of Bene Riobó)

  1. “Once in a while we hear stories of passengers ending up on flights to the wrong destination.”

    It’s even funnier when passenger bought a ticket from wrong Origin.
    My friend told me he got very cheap Ticket from Birmingham (UK) to Cleveland,Ohio.
    Turns out he booked a flight from Birmingham,Alabama (US)…
    I guess whole booking process for passengers living in cities that has same name in large countries is a whole another great expierence 😉

  2. Wait, there is no boarding pass checking, either at the gate or on the plane? no announcement during headcount/pre-door closing session or at the boarding gate/waiting room? and no FIDS either?

  3. I don’t know. just my opinion but I find no humor in stories like this and think the airline should be subject to a fairly hefty fine. If for nothing else than for the government to state that you either run the airline like a responsible adult or go out of business. It seems like airlines are an absolute mess nowadays and honestly, wouldn’t simple communication have solved this? Did the pilot or any of the crew members announce where they were headed. Did any of the passengers say anything? Fine the airline, fire the pilot, refund passengers money.

  4. Some very American reactions here, talking about fines, suing and compensation.

    Whilst it seems that the Swedes took it all in good humour.

  5. @Tom – I agree with you. We are a litigious people. Sometimes sh-t just happens. Nobody got injured; nobody died; just a bunch of inconvenienced people. I too would have laughed it off, but then again all of my ancestors were from Norway and like the Swedes they tended not to get overly hung up on such things.

  6. @Tom/Gregg, passengers paid money for a direct flight to Gothenburg on Monday.

    They didn’t get what they paid for. I’m not sure why they should have to shrug it off.

  7. Wasn’t there a similar incident many years over the Amazonia where the pilot misread the heading and flew in an incorrect direction resulting in a crash-landing due to fuel exhaustion? This is an absurd error and thankfully one that didn’t cost any lives.

  8. @Tom – it’s actually Europe which has a very specific law which defines what and how much compensation is due when an airline doesn’t deliver passengers to their destination as promised.

  9. @2pax, you’re missing the point. They paid money and didn’t receive the agreed upon service, therefore money is owed.

  10. Well, on routes like this most travellers are frequent business fliers and not exactly pay too much attention where they are going to unless departing from Bromma where you have to check the sign that you are going to the right plane. Process is nice and relaxed, almost like PART 135 + security. It’s not uncommon to have wrong announcements, usually someone will correct the pilot.
    What’s more interesting is the loadsheet and passenger/manifest count. Did they match for both flights? Or did the crew ignore destination on that document.

  11. @Steve – The Conditions of Carriage for the ticket would disagree with you. No airline guarantees schedules or routing which are subject change without notice. I would also argue that they did in fact get what they paid for; they got to Gotenburg , albeit via a very indirect routing. If any compensation is due under EU law for the inconvenience caused then that’s one thing. But suing, fines, is a bit extreme.

  12. @Gregg, the airline took them to the wrong destination. The fact that the airline reversed their mistake on Tuesday is irrelevant.

  13. I’ve always wondered why US airlines always have announcements to the effect of “we are about to close the door. If you do not wish to fly to XXX today, this is your last chance to leave the plane.”

    I know northern europeans tend to prefer deathly silence while forced into close proximity with others, but I’m quite surprised there was not a single statement from the crew about the weather at the destination, distance, time until arrival, or any other sentence that might have mentioned the airport where they intended to land.

  14. I actually just flew Nextjet last week from Karlstad Airport to Stockholm. My flight ended up making an additional stop at Jonkoping, as two of the planes were having mechanical issues. I presume that this confusing arrangement has something to do with Nextjet’s frequent change of routing and flight schedule because of its aging fleet and to be honest, these Saab 340s work in tough conditions. For example, passengers to Jonkoping on my flight has to back track as the plane came from Stockholm, so most passengers possibly just thought the plane was doing a triangular route to accommodate some delays earlier.

  15. How lovely to see my hometown, Sundsvall, making the headlines. Never thought that SDL-airport would be mentioned here, an airport which at a maximum can handle a 737 (which cannot even be fully fueled due to the short runway).

  16. I was just sold a ticket to a non-existent flight (not one that was subsequently cancelled but one that never existed in the first place) in Ghana this week. Strange things happen in the world of aviation.

  17. Where is the “There is no pilot! The plane is going the wrong way!” guy when you need him?

    He would’ve been at least half-right this time.

  18. Funny that this makes the news since it happened in a western country, because this sort of thing happens in Africa all the time.

    Try flying on air Zimbabwe for example. My last flight, JNB-VFA decided to leave two hours early (without any notice), and decided to land at BYO instead of VFA (a six hour drive on the best day). (Un)luckily I was at JNB particularly early that day and made the flight, though had I missed it I could’ve just rebooked on SA for another flight. Instead I was left in Bulawayo with not even so much as a “sorry” or a way to get to my destination. Ended up hiring a van with a few others for the flight.

    The reasoning behind it? Our friend Robert Mugabe decided he wanted to commandeer the plane for another “shopping” trip. Hopefully we won’t have these problems anymore!!

  19. @Peter Unless the article has been edited, the relevant part of the sentence is “…Nextjet (which is one of Sweden’s largest regional airlines)…”, not the largest.

  20. Used to work in a small-ish regional airline, and at the time we were operating a couple of ATR’s in CPH for SAS. The planes were on stands next to each other, but the ground services managed to mix up the bus’es with PAX. They found it out, when passengers started making noise during the pre-departure PA. It was quite an headache to solve the problem, both planes ended up being delayed for around 1 hour

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