What Happened On Yesterday’s 8 Hour ANA Flight From LAX To LAX?

Filed Under: ANA

Yesterday’s ANA flight 175 from Los Angeles to Tokyo Narita ended up turning around about four hours after takeoff. The plane left Los Angeles at 11:36AM PT, and returned at 7:32PM PT.

The only information we have directly from ANA is this statement, per CNBC:

“During the flight, the cabin crew became aware that one of the passengers boarded the incorrect flight and notified the pilot. As part of the airline’s security procedure, the pilot in command decided to return to the originating airport, where the passenger was disembarked. ANA is researching the situation currently to determine how the passenger boarded the flight. ANA would like to express its apologies to the passengers for the inconvenience.”

However, fortunately supermodel Chrissy Teigen and her husband, John Legend, were on the flight. Chrissy did a damn good job documenting every last detail of this situation over a few dozen Tweets.

While we don’t officially know that this is what happened, it sounds like the passenger in question was actually booked on the United flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo Narita. ANA and United have a joint venture on transpacific flights, and both airlines operate a flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo Narita departing around the same time.

That doesn’t answer how this person managed to get onto the ANA flight, though. You’d think that the boarding pass scanner would have stopped them. On top of that, ANA verifies boarding passes at the door and also does a seat count before the door closes, so it’s quite remarkable that the passenger not only managed to get onto the plane, but also managed to stay on it. From everything we know, it sounds like this was an honest mistake, and that this passenger didn’t have any motive to be on the ANA flight.

Upon landing back at LAX they apparently put the plane in a secure area, and conducted interviews.

Eventually everyone was taken off the plane, and Chrissy was put in a room where Real Housewives of Beverly Hills was screening. That’s good, at least.

The plane ended up taking off from Los Angeles at around 3AM, and is due into Tokyo at around 7AM local time. And I’m sorry Chrissy, but I’m afraid you’re probably going to get the same menu again.

Could this really just have been an honest mistake?

The series of events that led to the ANA staff allowing this passenger to fly is quite stunning. The ground staff scanned the boarding pass, the flight attendants verified the boarding pass at the door, the passenger was able to select a seat that wasn’t otherwise occupied, and the flight attendants did a seat count that apparently matched what was expected.

This person had a United ticket, so we have no reason to believe there was any foul play here, or that this passenger was intentionally taking a different flight, etc.

It’s possible that there’s something we don’t know. Maybe this person was also on some sort of a watch list, or something. But I have no reason to believe that’s the case. The reality is that we still live in an age of paranoia and security theater when it comes to aviation. Assuming this person had a ticket for the United flight, and assuming this person went through security, and assuming there wasn’t anything unusual about his/her behavior, it seems ridiculous to turn the plane around. You’re delaying hundreds of people by 16+ hours, not to mention that a diversion like this probably costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But unfortunately this sort of attitude seems to be standard operating procedure. Yet somehow we’re okay with the TSA continuing to miss a vast majority of weapons that go through security checkpoints.

What do you think — was this just a simple mixup and huge overreaction, or was there more to the story?

  1. I think this was a mistake or actually no mistake at all. The BBC wrote this: “Adonis Cutchlow, of the LAX Police, told the LA Times there had been no criminal or illegal activity on board the plane, and it was not clear why it had turned back.”

    There ought to another reason for turning back.

  2. Would it not have been less expensive for ANA to continue the flight to NRT, especially since that is purportedly the passenger’s intended destination anyway (albeit on United, not ANA).

  3. In reality we will never know the reason why and can only speculate unless NH issues a statement with the exact details Unlikely due to privacy

    Believe it or not, it is in fact not uncommon for passengers to board the wrong flight. If they’ve cleared security and bags have been screened it’s not a risk to others

    It seems very unlikely a passenger was erroneously boarded and was supposed to be travelling to Tokyo on the UA operated flight

    If he or she presented themselves to NH at TBIT they would have been referred to terminal 6 The flight numbers are completely different : UA032 and UA7925 or NH175 and NH7019

    It’s possible to pass airside from terminals 6 – TBIT. Assuming the passenger had a boarding pass and any bags had already been checked

    I suspect something else

  4. if I were a pax of this flight I would claim the miles of the 8 hour flight as a compensation !
    do you think the DOT will stand on this side LOL ?

  5. At the 4 hour mark who (the passenger or the crew) got to know that the passenger is taking a wrong flight? And how did they get to know.
    If passenger got to know reading everything about ANA that would have been understood, but if crew got to know,then how?

  6. “So basically the boarding pass scanner is just a beedoop machine that makes beedoop noises that register to nowhere”

    Brilliant summary by Chrissy.

    Just how could that have happened?

    Utterly bloody mystifying.

    Though in fairness I am constantly pissed off by airline codeshares which turn out to mean I’m booking myself onto a shitty airline I always try to avoid, because it’s pretending to be an airline I like. I still have no idea how that’s either legal or sensible.

  7. Mmm not sure if airlines can arrive to a country without pre manifest their passangers.. and not sure what are the risks/fines if this happens.. maybe this is what they wanted to avoid.

  8. Mmm not sure if airlines can arrive to a country without pre manifest their passangers.. and not sure what are the risks/fines if this does not happen..maybe this is what they wanted to avoid.

  9. Despite all the security theatre, and it is often theatre, I have personally gotten past immigration and security with someone else’s boarding pass but my own passport, despite our names and ethnicities not matching. This was at Changi of all places. I would probably have gotten on the plane too, had I not self reported it when I realized the mistake!

    So yep, all the beeps and tick marks sometimes don’t do much when you have rushed, bored and tired employees at 11pm

  10. Whiny supermodel gets attention on social media.

    This is such a non-story. Diversions happen. We don’t breathlessly “report” on every one of them.

    The person went through the same security screening as everyone else on the plane – there was no increased security threat here.

    In other words: move along folks, nothing to see here.

  11. If everything was done correctly, from the gate boarding pass scan, to the onboard checking of boarding pass, then how the wrong passenger was discovered?

    Who would suddenly double-check the passenger list again, 4 hrs into the flight, after the flight has taken off (all the checks should have been completed before the flight takes off)?

    Very strange.

  12. This is so weird. Why didn’t they just let eh flight continue if the pax had a legit boarding pass for a codeshared flight operated by a partner same time same route anyway?

  13. Omg. I love ANA, I love Chrissy Teigen, and I love RHOBH. It’d be virtually impossible for you, Lucky, to top off this article anytime soon. Yes yes yes!!

    Can’t help but wonder, who is so important that that person being on the wrong flight warrants a return all the way to LAX? Can’t they just extradite him/her back if it is a person of interest? Someone must’ve tipped the crewmembers off, someone important enough that they had to return to LAX.

    More importantly, WAS BABY LUNA ON THE FLIGHT?

  14. C’mon. Everyone here would jump at an opportunity to get on an ANA flight instead of the United flight. . .

  15. This is a non-story Lucky.
    Why not instead write about the changes to the LATAM points program going from 8km per dollar to 5 per dollar with a program name change?

  16. @ Bob @ May — I don’t agree that this is a non-story. Yes, diversions are common, but an eight hour flight to nowhere absolutely isn’t common. I’d estimate that something like this happens maybe a few times a year, while dozens of diversions happen every day. For example, the last such story I remember writing about was when a Lufthansa A380 had a seven hour flight to nowhere on 9/11. So I do think it’s worth differentiating this from a standard diversion.

  17. @ dew
    “I have personally gotten past immigration and security with someone else’s boarding pass but my own passport”

    But that’s irrelevant.

    This was someone with a boarding pass FOR ANOTHER FLIGHT – and yet they STILL got through the “beep” machine (which, so far as I am aware, is not affected by being bored or tired at the end of a long shift).

    I struggle to believe that no-one saw the red light. And if instead a green light was flashed … well, I did think much of this security was pantomime, but I am actually a bit shocked by this bit being all pretend.

  18. The boarding pass scanners do nothing. I was once given another person’s boarding pass by an Admiral’s Club employee (my name was similar to another passenger). They had added me to the standby list for an earlier flight and she saw my name clear (wasn’t really my name) and handed me the passes and told me to hurry to the gate. I did not notice the name was wrong. I was able to board the plane and take my seat and so was the other passenger even though we had the same boarding pass. The mixup was discovered and I had to get off the plane. But I was surprised that nothing alerted them to the issue.

  19. Did United remove the missing passenger’s checked luggage before departing? If not, it’s the United flight that should have turned back, since his luggage represented a potential security risk.

  20. If you think it’s a non-story, don’t read it. This is a blog; not the New York Times. Lucky gets to decide what HE wants to post about. We get to decide whether we want to read it.

    Would this story have been on GMA this morning without the Chrissy tweets; not a chance. But it’s worth a Lucky-blog in my opinion in any case. There are several things about the story that I find interesting: 1) how did the person get on board; 2) were they code-share-confused? 3) why did they go all the way back? 4) is ANA going to offer the passengers any compensation for their inconvenience.

  21. 4hrs. into the Pacific, could ANA have diverted to HNL or ANC instead of returning to LAX to save time..??

    Strange indeed that the intended UAL flight departed from T6, and the ANA flight departed from TBIT.
    The terminals are not even close. How this person passed thru the various layers at TBIT with a UAL BoardingPass pass unnoticed is odd.

    p.s. Chrissy’s husband John Legend was on board as well.

  22. First world problem…

    If you really don’t want to be inconvenienced by mundane occurrences such as having to eat the same first class meal, be a *real* supermodel and afford to buy your own G-V or Global Express.

  23. Japan has very strict immigration laws. About 15 years ago, I traveled on a youth trip to Japan and one member of our group had an expired passport. How they boarded the plane wa beyond me. We arrived to Narita on a Friday night. I wasn’t privy to everything but the entire group waited at customs for a few hours while it went unresolved and the group member with the expired passport ended up remaining at the airport until the embassy opened on Monday and was able to get proper documentation.

  24. @Mario, I suspect you are right, it seems likely there would be consequences for an international flight arriving with non-manifested passengers. This could explain the decision to turn back, as the security threat should theoretically have been confined to the United flight (if the passenger had checked bags for that flight) rather than the ANA flight.

    Incredible story, So much is odd here, it’s hard to believe this was an innocent mistake. The sheer number of security lapses is shocking. In addition, as many have pointed out, strange how all of this became an issue 4 hours into the flight – how was it discovered, unless the crew had some reason to suspect something was wrong? Why would the passenger wait 4 hours to report the issue?

  25. CT-Very annoying persona. I think JL is truly a “legend” but his spoiled brat wife is such a pain in the ass. Boo F’in Hoo, stuck in ANA First Class. What a self concerned Liberal with really no compassion for anybody but herself. I imagine JL just shaking his head wondering what damage she was going to be doing to his classy reputation.

    Why is there no backlash for her 1% attitude and previous political stands on equality.

    Loser. Gives Thai heritage a black eye.

  26. I’ve been on a couple of flights where a boarding pass was scanned during boarding and the scanner’s lighting turned red, and the display clearly stated “Incorrect Flt” or something of that sort. Turned out the pax was waiting at the gate for the next flight out (to a different destination) but had gone to get food or visited the lounge then returned to the gate area to see boarding underway and assumed it was his flight. So I know that the scanners correlate to a manifest. Perhaps that’s an option that can be toggled on/off and the scanner put into a mode where it simply scans for valid boarding passes, regardless of the flight or airline. That would explain how the pax got onto the jetway.

    Aboard the plane, I’d gather the FA simply glanced at the seat number on the stub of the boarding pass, *not* the flight or airline information, and directed the pax down the appropriate aisle. Then maybe it was sheer coincidence that the seat was unoccupied.

    They could have discovered during the flight at the time of meal service. The pax maybe requested a special dietary meal that when cross referenced with the manifest showed the occupied seat should’ve been empty. Or that no special meal was loaded onto the plane or that the pax’s name wasn’t on the manifest at all, let alone his/her special meal.

    Truly a strange series of events, but not necessarily a total stretch of the imagination.

  27. When did the united flight they were due on take off? was it a few hours later and was it was it united that told ANA of the problem and not ANA discovering it on board?

    Someone was gonna get a fine for this – I guess if ANA had continued the fine (and public shame in Japan) would have been higher than returning and offloading…

  28. Lucky,
    With due respect to your aviation knowledge I think it was a Boeing 747-400 of Lufthansa which undertook the longest FRA – FRA flight on 9/11.
    All the best to you for 2018!

  29. I think a reasonable explanation is that ANA’s boarding computer was offline for whatever reason and they were having to check boarding passes manually. With their United codeshare, ANA it’s probably used to seeing passes printed on United cardstock and only the flight number would have indicated the error, which would be easy to miss. With the boarding computer offline, the passenger count would have been manually tabulated as well. The error may have been discovered when the system came back online and the boarding pass stubs were being input to the system.

  30. Computers do make errors, y’all. Don’t you see your phone and laptops glitch out sometimes? And humans make all sorts of errors and have spaced-out moments.
    Whoever was handling the boarding pass scanner at the Gate had a brain-fart, clearly, or, that the machine just missed it. That’s why the police have not made any big moves, and the plane was allowed to fly again, fairy soon, I might add.
    And the fact that the flight crew didn’t notice a stranger in a seat that was supposed to be occupied, they did fail to do a proper head count.

    Who was the person that got returned? That’s what we need to know. If it turns out to be an undercover agent of some agency, I wouldn’t be surprised.

  31. I have seen many instances on international flights where they don’t use the machines cause they’re broken or something. And the gate agents just take the ticket stubs. This is actually very common practice at Cathay Pacific.

    Whole smells like there’s more to the story.

  32. @Thomas you can clear security at any TSA checkpoint at LAX with a valid boarding pass. Also TBIT has a secure walkway to terminal 4,5,6,7 and I think 8. I use it all the time to visit the star alliance lounge then walk to my United flight at terminal 7.

  33. United hosts an airport tour where their frequent fliers become passenger service agents and as one who was assigned the duty of scanning boarding passes and reading passports, I can see how this might have been a mistake. So many factors are in play and the pressure exerted on ground staff to get the flight to push back on time is immense. I’m sure over time this pressure is handled well by the ground staff, but I’m saying it’s definitely possible…

  34. Thanks, Lucky, for the story, which has more detail than some news outlets. Yes, they must be bargain basement outlets, but not Lucky!

    Lucky, consider doing some airport reviews, too, not just lounges and business class.

  35. I’m torn about celebrities posting things like this. on the one hand, it is particularly self serving and tone deaf — esp when that celebrity is sitting in First Class. No doubt she was inconvenienced, but can she imagine how it must have been sitting in Economy?

    But on the other hand I recognize that without high profile names tweeting and sharing, many complaints would never reach the light of day…

  36. Were you on the flight? If not, how can you, or indeed any of the passengers, know what happened? It’s just your take.

  37. Why couldn’t the passenger read his boarding pass correctly and save the rest the hassle. I am amused how ignorant flyers are today about checking their documentation. It’s your ticket, your responsibility.

  38. To all the people critical of celebrities complaining about the significant delay despite being seated in first: realise that for high networth individuals, time is worth way more than a first class seat. Sometimes it’s not about comfort, it’s about high value engagements one needs to attend to.

  39. From a law enforcement perspective, if you are truly concerned that an unauthorized passenger poses a potential security threat, the last thing you would do is make a public announcement that you’ve discovered an unauthorized passenger on the plane, unless you’ve already put the person in handcuffs. Instead, I think Mario and Kerry are probably correct, that ANA’s decision was likely motivated by concern about consequences for the airline if the flight landed with a non-manifested passenger. Don’t know if that would result in a fine or just a black mark on their security record, but if the flight went all the to Tokyo with an unauthorized passenger, it is ANA that would solely shoulder the blame in the eyes of the Japanese authorities. Whereas, returning to LAX puts the focus on the multiple mistakes that were made airside prior to take-off, and perhaps not solely by ANA. Given a choice between ticking off a planeload of passengers or governmental authorities, they chose the former.

  40. I was sitting on a Qantas plane once waiting to take off and this lady came running up to the flight attendant at the front of the plane and exclaimed, “Excuse me, someone is sitting in my seat.”

    The flight attendant looked at the woman’s boarding pass and said, “umm, this is an AirNorth ticket and umm, this plane is going to Alice Springs, not Townsville.”


  41. according to ABC news the pax in question had a ticket on the UA flight but his brother was flying on the NH flight. He had a second copy of the brother’s bp and boarded with that.

    How they did a head count and still took off tells you they didn’t really do a proper head count. Apparently the airline is looking at a huge fine

  42. Last year on an already delayed United flight from IAH-SFO, a pax boarded with a boarding pass for IAH-DEN. As we were lining up for take-off, the pax somehow realized she was on the wrong flight. After a lot of drama, the pilot decided to return to the terminal to drop the lady off. This added another 3 hours to my already 4 hour delayed flight. So, yes, even UA’s own scanners do not always work. You would think this technology would work.

  43. Japanese are known to follow procedures and laws down to the letter. There is no room at all for common sense. That’s why they returned to LAX.

  44. Actually “Bob” it is an event that inconvenienced a lot of people and cost some of those people and ANA a lot of money. If this blog is a waste of your time go somewhere else. I find it all to be very intriguing.

  45. Why didn’t Legend and Teigen fly a private jet? LOL. They could have avoided this whole hassle. I guess they were being cheap or had got free tickets to fly to Japan for something LOL

  46. At – for example – LH, if the scanner does not like your home-printed boarding pass, they simply enter the check-in sequence number to board you to a flight; maybe something like that happened here (the gate agent simply typed in “007” and said: “off you go”).

  47. If the passenger had made it to Tokyo eventually on the wrong flight I would be curious if he had gotten the mileage credit for this flight 🙂

  48. Why haven’t they identified the two brothers who caused all this? Why are they “unidentified”? The airiine surely knows who they are. The new media splashes everybody elses name. Why is the media protecting them?

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