Oops: Brussels Airlines’ Nine Hour Flight To Nowhere

Filed Under: Brussels

Brussels Airlines is in a unique position. They’re owned by Lufthansa, but Lufthansa is in the process of basically merging Brussels Airlines and Eurowings, which is their low cost airline. It seems complications related to that may have led to a very unusual flight yesterday.

Brussels Airlines’ nine hour flight from Brussels to Brussels

Brussels Airlines’ flight from Brussels to Washington (SN515) is usually in the air for about 8-8.5 hours, at least based on looking at flight tracking for the past couple of weeks. Yesterday the flight was in the air for around nine hours… and it landed back in Brussels.

That’s right, Brussels Airlines operated a roughly nine hour flight from Brussels to Brussels, as the plane turned around halfway over the Atlantic. The plane took off at 12:30PM, and landed back in Brussels at 9:15PM.

Here’s a map that shows the rough route, though it doesn’t show just how far it flew — that’s because Flightradar24 often can’t track around the middle of the Atlantic.

What happened?

Well, we’re not sure, as the airline isn’t saying, other than noting that it was for “operational reasons.”

The flight was supposed to be operated with an A330-200 that had the registration code OO-SFZ, but it got swapped last minute for operational reasons. The plane was then operated by an A330-300 that had the registration code OO-SFL.

There are some interesting things about this plane:

  • It flew for Lufthansa until March 2019
  • Then it was transferred to Brussels Airlines, and it began flying for them as of May 18, 2019
  • While the plane is flown by Brussels Airlines, it’s technically registered to Eurowings, given that it has an “OO” registration code
  • This is part of Brussels Airlines being integrated into Eurowings, which is their low cost carrier
  • This was the plane’s first flight to the US since it was re-registered as a Brussels Airlines/Eurowings plane

Passengers on board report being told that this issue was because the plane was new and hadn’t been registered yet in the US.

While we don’t know the full reasons yet, it seems pretty clear that this ultimately boiled down to some sort of paperwork issue. I guess the airline hadn’t filed to have the plane registered with the FAA in the correct way, and that caused this diversion.

This was an insanely costly mistake

This (likely) paperwork mistake probably cost Eurowings hundreds of thousands of Euros, if not more.

At a minimum, EU261 applies, which is the EU’s mandatory compensation policy for delays. Every passenger on this flight is due 600EUR cash compensation. This includes both passengers on the Brussels to Washington flight, as well as those on the Washington to Brussels flight that ended up being canceled.

If you assume each of those planes had 250 passengers, that’s 300,000EUR in compensation right there. Of course this assumes passengers actually request compensation, which many probably won’t know to do.

That doesn’t factor in any of the other costs — hotels, food, getting the passengers to their destination, the crewing costs, fuel burn, etc. Those amount to several hundred thousand Euros as well.

In the end I’d estimate this mistake cost the airline well over 500,000 Euros.

Bottom line

This is a crazy story, though the truth is that we see a story like this probably once a year. If you had a medical situation you’d usually divert to the nearest airport (in this case probably in Iceland).

The only circumstances under which you’d have a plane turn around at the halfway point (or even further) is if there’s some paperwork issue, or if there’s some maintenance issue where you think you’re best off flying everyone back to base, rather than continuing to the destination.

Was anyone on yesterday’s SN515 who can share what exactly happened?

(Tip of the hat to Aviation24)

  1. Oops. Someone won’t be looking forward to being called in to see their boss on Monday morning!

  2. Interesting. I was supposed to be on OO-SFL on Thursday on SN 277, but we were swapped literally at the last minute (like just a few minutes before boarding was to begin) to OO-SFD instead. No complaints from me as SFD is the first aircraft with the new Business Class and Premium Economy cabin so it was an enjoyable ride, but the crew had a nightmare with reseating passengers across different seat maps.

  3. It might be the US CBP decal. Every aircraft that fly to the US needs one. I believe for a large aircraft it is about $15k.

  4. Oh my god. Eurowings is such a shit show. The travel blogs write a lot about all of American Airlines’s screw ups (which is good because people should be warned) but Eurowings is really on another planet. For starters it’s amazing how Lufthansa never looked at United’s “Ted” as a warning not to try the same. They have essentially lost almost all their market share in Berlin as no frequent flyer I know in the city is willing to fly them because of reliability issues. I’m a 1K and fly a lot of Star Alliance, and a lot of One World but will gladly fly Easyjet any day but refuse to get on a Eurowings plane. The delays, problems, service offering degradation (of what was never a great product) is the only thing consistent about this company. The Brussels Airlines people were right to protest the integration of what is slow moving train wreck. And this latest example fits in nicely. Can’t imagine how livid the passengers were? After that experience who would ever want to fly that airline?!

  5. Out of curiosity, what would the consequences had been if this flight (and any flight in a similar situation) had continued on and landed in the United States?

  6. @EndlosLuft, wow I’m surprised to hear that. I’ve flown Eurowings several times and always found them to be excellent (and on time, etc). I will have that in the back of my mind now as sounds like I’ve been lucky.

  7. @Dennis, I am curious too on this. My best guess is there would be a big fine. I would be surprised if the US did not allow the plane to physically land and forced it to divert to Canada once it entered US airspace.

  8. ‘While the plane is flown by Brussels Airlines, it’s technically registered to Eurowings, given that it has an “OO” registration code.’

    Not too clear on this. An OO- registration signifies a Belgian-registered aircraft. Eurowings is German, so its aircraft will be D-registered. The exceptions are some A340s like OO-SCW and -SCX, which are registered in Belgium.

  9. I’ve got to wonder what LH is doing. They’re rolling out an upgraded biz seat on SN AND integrating them into EW, which seem to be things at odds with one another unless EW is also upgrading their biz hard product.

  10. Not quite as bad, but a couple weeks ago I was on a UA ORD-LAX flight that halfway into the flight turned around and went back to ORD due to a power outage at LAX. UA1186 on June 5, 4.5h ORD-ORD. Looking at the map on FlightAware, we were very near DEN at the time, but they decided to send us all the way back to ORD.

  11. My friend, who was coming from Poland to visit me was on that flight. She is arriving today.
    She was re-booked on united via Geneva
    She said the situation was absolute chaos.

  12. @Dennis, I believe they would not get clearance into the US airspace from the ATC while they’re in one of the previous sectors. Similar thing happened to NZ289 AKL-PVG this Feb. It was that plane’s first flight to China, hadn’t registered, and was turned back on the pacific ocean.

  13. Makes you wonder what´s the strategy of Lufthansa here… They cant fly as cheap as the LCC competition with Eurowings, that´s clear. So, EW will lose money forever basically. Lufthansa already stopped growing EW and recently LH`s CEO called upon Germans to use the rail service for domestic travel. Has anyone heard of a turnaround plan for EW? I`m wondering.

  14. Slightly OT but has anyone noticed that Brussels Airlines business class transatlantic availability has all but disappeared?

  15. It’s really to sad to see Brussels Airlines slowly being integrated to Eurowings. Brussels Airlines is a much better airlines IMO and their ex CEO Bernard Gustin; who was forced to leave when Lufthansa took over SN did an amazing job into turning the airline into a successful and reliable brand. He was loved by the airline employees who even started a petition to get him back.
    Very sad to see such a nice little airline disappearing…

  16. I was on the flight. Just now back In the us and waiting for my bags ( we’ll see if they made it). I have screen shots from my seat back monitor if you want them.
    Brussels air has been very kind but every step has been quite confusing and this was a huge human error!!!!

  17. Similar thing happened to me back in 2009 when I was flying from EWR-BOM with Continental. Was flying on Christmas Eve. Plane took off fine and there were no problems until about 8 hours into the flight when the FA came on and said they were turning around back to EWR due to “mechanical problems” but determined it was safe to fly. We were flying over Germany. Thought it would’ve been safer to just land at a nearby airport… long story short had to wait at the Presidents club for over 15 hours for them to find another 777…. Still to this day curious about what happened during the flight.

  18. About a year ago when the volcano erupted in Bali a Qatar Airways flight from DOH to DPS was about half way through it’s 10 hour flight when it turned around because they closed DPS.
    I was booked on the next flight which was delayed for about 15 hours so it could have been far worse! Not sure how I could have explained to my kids why we spent 10 hours going around in a circle and ended up back home rather than on holiday!

  19. I’ve been on an American flight JFK-FCO about three years ago which got turned around about 4 hours into the flight and ended up returning to JFK 8.5 in. No-one explained what happened – but some ex-AA-pilot seated not far from me spoke to the crew and said that it boiled down to some mechanical issue that Americans classified as normal and Italians refused to accept (except as an emergency landing). I was lucky to be in business, can’t imaging flying 8.5. Hours in economy only to get back to JFK.

  20. Is the EU261 compensation in addition to travel insurance claim, or would insurers deduct that compensation from their payout, assuming it was greater than UU261?

  21. This yes speaks to the poor handling by the operators but also the inflexibility of government and the cancer that bureaucracy is. Is a standard Brussels airlines commercial passenger flight a risk to the U.S. that requires it not to be approved for landing, no. It’s just ridiculous everyone and every company has to jump through hoops for arbitrary and capricious and excessive and abusive rules that serve no purpose other than bureaucrats justifying their jobs.

  22. Turning SN into EW is a giant mistake. Maybe it isn’t a big deal on short haul flights but on long haul SN have great brand recognition, particularly in Africa where they are strongest. EW is totally unknown to most of these markets. I feel bad for the Belgian people, must not be great to have Brussels Airlines as your “flag carrier”…

  23. If they were allowed to land in the US (and pay a penalty), would the plane be able to take off? Or have to wait until the paperwork is completed?

  24. It has just been announced that Brussels Airlines won’t be integrated into Eurowings anymore!
    They’ll become a network airline in the Lufthansa group just like LH, LX and OS.

    Great news imho, every Belgian knew an integration into EW wouldn’t work for SN…

  25. I was on the flight. Such a sinking feeling when the pilot announced something similar to, “due to a paperwork issue because this is a new plane, we are not authorized to land in the US, so we have turned around and will be back in Belgium this evening. I wish there was something I could do, but I can’t.” And then the airline WiFi was down, so we could not contact loved ones.

    Brussels Air put us all up in a nearby hotel upon return, not getting settled until 2300, with a shuttle at 0630 back to the airport the next day and a promise that we would all be rebooked overnight and would be emailed our new booking”. … I never received email/notice, and apparently missed my 0700 rebooked flight that I was never told about. Thankfully, they rebooked me through Geneva later that day and I finally made it home.

    Now to file the EU compensation claim, and kindly ask the airline how they are going to convince me to ever fly with them again. And hopefully that 9 hour flight counts for mileage! I too have seat back screenshots of the actual flight if you want them!

    The morale was pretty low on that flight to say the least!

  26. Oh..how I remember Sabena and the lovely upper-deck lounge on their early 747 (Had an ‘old-master’ repro mural, on the back bulkhead!) Shows my age! LOL

  27. I was also on that flight and thought that we were treated quite poorly by Brussels Airlines. Upon landing back in Brussels, all of the business class passengers were given rooms in the Sheraton across the street from the airport, and all of the economy class passengers were bussed to a lesser hotel farther away. All passengers who could not enter Belgium without a visa had to spend the night in the terminal. We were given a voucher for our hotel and told to call a hotline to get our rebooked flight information (they couldn’t figure this out in the 4 hours they had after we turned around?), and told we could also just show up at 6 am the next day because our new flight “could be at 8 or it could be at 1”. Thanks. Upon arriving at the hotel given a bag with a tiny sandwich, dinner roll, and apple for dinner. Then spent 1 hour on hold trying to reach the hotline and was told my rebooked flight would be on Monday the 24th. I protested and they were able to rebook me on a flight going through London the next day. The 600 euros compensation helps but I am never flying Brussels air again after this. I was also stuck in Brussels for a night in February 2018 when there was a mechanical issue with a United plane (Brussels Airlines code share partner). Maybe this is a coincidence but I travel frequently for work and have never had this issue at another airport.

  28. I am so thankful to God that nothing happened to you all guys that were on board. Despite the delays inconveniences here and there , you are all safe all glory and honour back to God.

  29. Lufthansa announced yesterday they’re turning back their decision of integrating Brussels Airlines in Eurowings. The African routes of Brussels Airlines are worth too much.
    Instead of dissolving in Eurowings, Brussels Airlines is now on a path to become a more premium brand along Austrian and Swiss in the Lufthansa portfolio according to Belgian newspaper De Standaard.


  30. concerned after reading about lufthansa, Brussel & Eurowings that a flights. i need to pay for my flight reservations tonight with this airline and worried I may not in fact be buying a ticket that will be usable nor money returned. PLEASE help, do you think that whatever needs to be ironed out with paperwork of disintergration of airlines would cancel this flight july 23 2019????
    Can anyone advise me if i purchase this flight via ASAP site if my flight could be cancelled? Responses before midnight tonight would be appreciated as my good fare will be lost. i fly to Germany to get married just 2 weeks after and it would be a disaster or at least extremely costly if i had to find some other flight days before my wedding.
    United States
    Miami Intl Arpt Germany
    Dusseldorf Arpt Flight LH 5185

  31. @John Abrick

    i’m not an american, but it sounds like the US government is (rightly) acting in the interests of US companies by ending european wetlease agreements. if the US government feels that the EU is acting unfairly, then it seems reasonable to me that they give notice to refuse entry of such aircraft into US airspace.
    not so much bureaucrats justifying their job – as american civil servants trying to provide opportunities for american companies !


  32. Should of landed in Canada..and got booked on flights from there.Bring back SABENA I say!

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