Did An Etihad Flight Delay Kill A Passenger?

Filed Under: Etihad

Earlier I shared the story of yesterday’s Etihad flight from Abu Dhabi to San Francisco, which was delayed by 12 hours due to fog. The biggest issue is that the passengers weren’t allowed to deplane, so were stuck on the plane the entire time. Basically holding people hostage for this long becomes a serious safety issue, especially when you have kids and seniors aboard.

Etihad A330 at Dusseldorf Airport

Fortunately it doesn’t seem anything serious happened during that 28 hour journey. The same can’t be said for Etihad’s flight yesterday between Abu Dhabi and Dusseldorf. After keeping passengers on the plane for more than 13 hours due to fog, an Etihad flight bound for Dusseldorf diverted to Vienna after a man had a stroke.

Via The National:

“After keeping passengers on the plane for more than 13 hours last night, flight EY23 to Düsseldorf has just diverted to Vienna with a passenger receiving CPR from the crew,” said a passenger, in an email to The National.

On Sunday, an Etihad Airways spokesman confirmed the death of one of its passengers.

“Etihad Airways flight EY23 from Abu Dhabi to Düsseldorf was diverted to Vienna on Saturday, January 3, 2015, due to an on-board medical emergency involving a 73-year old male passenger. A medical team met the aircraft upon landing to assist the passenger on-board. However, he was pronounced deceased,” the spokesman said.

Now, while we don’t know all the facts, I can’t help but wonder if the passenger’s death had something to do with the delay.

In the US we have the four hour tarmac rule, which is well intentioned though sometimes ends up working against passengers. For example, say you were on the tarmac for three hours and then there’s an hour queue for takeoff, you might end up near the front of the queue for takeoff, only to return to the gate because you’ve been on the ground for four hours and one person wants to deplane.

But on the other end of the spectrum, holding passengers on a plane (presumably) mostly against their will is completely unacceptable. I hope the situation is investigated, and that it leads to either new laws or otherwise a new company policy.

None of this makes any sense to me. I don’t get why Etihad would keep passengers on the plane for this long without giving them the option to deplane. What’s the upside for them?

What a disaster.

RIP to the gentleman that passed away…

  1. 13 hours, possibly in a coach seat, without sufficient hydration, DVT is a distinct possibility. If I was in the family, I would get order an autopsy.

    Completely and utterly unacceptable on the part of Etihad. When does a massive delay, while not allowing pax to deplane, turn into a kidnapping?

    Just yesterday, I received an offer from American Express where I can receive 5% off of an Etihad ticket booked with my AMEX card. After reading your previous two stories on this airline, I’ve torn up the offer.

  2. Was it because of the lengthy security procedures at Abu Dhabi that passengers were kept on board, because the gates filled up, or the airport staff not allow the passengers off ?
    Would seem the airline be first to place blame if it wasn’t them, because treatment like that is inexcusable.

  3. My guess would be that they wanted to be able to take off at any opportunity that presented itself and if they went back to the terminal and offloaded everybody, then had to reload when there was a window of opportunity, they probably would not get off the ground before the window closed again. I don’t agree with this line of reasoning, but it is what I guess they were thinking. It is unconscionable that they would leave them out there for 12 or 13 hours and I would guess that if the passengers can get a hearing somewhere outside of the middle east, that it will be costly for the airports/airlines involved.

  4. Doesn’t this go to show that no matter how luxurious or subsidized or smart these middle eastern carriers are, that safety and convenience should rule the day, not fog and take off slots?

  5. One thing to keep in mind about the 4 hour rule in the U.S. is that the government only imposed that after YEARS AND YEARS of problems (not quite as bad as 12 hours but still pretty bad). Each time the airlines PROMISED to fix it and PROMISED it would never happen again….until the next time and the whole cycle repeated.

    Even in the hypothetical case here where you are an hour from taking off but have already have waited 3 hours and the plane turns back to let people off….well what happens if after 1 hour it ends up being just another 30 minutes….or just another 15 minutes….etc.

    A hard and fast limit had to be set because when the airlines were given leeway to make their own judgements you had people trapped for 5, 6, 7 hours…..

  6. Lucky,

    love your blog but if this continues I will really have to start using adblock on your site..

    Recently every post/ page on your site has auto-play video ads, while I am aware as I work in advertising these pay quite well, these are very highly annoying.

    With this page in particular, I had to find and pause 4 of them before being able to read the post.
    and I would say it is likely this annoys others too.

    Just an un-related suggestion, get rid of these

  7. +1 to Atif above, excellent points. I am one of those passengers that after a lengthy delay is just willing to rebook and travel the next day, so let me off. Of course not everyone has that flexibility and often the airlines are in a tough spot due to weather, but i always make every attempt to build flexibility and contingencies into my itineraries.

  8. I believe that Abu Dhabi is a US pre-clearance airport. It is possible that allowing passengers to deplane might raise objections by USCIS . I have no idea if this was the case, but am just stating that it could possibly a reason for not allowing deplaning.

  9. Revenge of the 4 hours rule. +1 Atif.

    Thank goodness the DOT did not listen to the self-interested airlines and their lies (punctuality increased instead of going down as they predicted it would disastrously do) and passed it AFTER WAY TOO MUCH DELAY.

    -1 Lucky for highlighting that it sometimes works against passengers as if it were a bad thing: this rule works “against” passengers the same way that the minimum equipment list does when an airline has to cancle a flight. Airlines would love to have the same rules of their African counterparts!

  10. @ Atif — Don’t disagree at all, but I also have personally had several cases where it hurt more than it helped. But I agree, rules have to be arbitrary — they can’t be created with an intent and then it’s up to the airlines to execute them. Having the rule is better than not.

  11. @ Shane — Promise it’s not intentional, and every time I get a report of this I forward it to the tech team. My apologies, promise I’m doing everything I can to get it fixed.

  12. @ mas — This wasn’t one of the flights that uses the Pre-Clearance facility, for what it’s worth.

  13. @ Good service — Don’t at all disagree that we’re better off with the rule or not, but any time you create an arbitrary limit there will be some winners and some losers. Again, we’re better off with it than not.

  14. It can’t be the US preclearance, because the flight to Dusseldorf didn’t use it.
    I presume that due to the fog and all planes grounded, the airport itself was overcrowded and prevented that planes deboarded.
    It is nevertheless an awful situation and ridiculous that crews can stay on the plane on the ground and then depart for such long flights. I hope that this will be internationally investigated and maybe there need to be some new rules for the safety of passengers!!!

  15. “Did An Etihad Flight Delay Kill A Passenger?”

    “Now, while we don’t know all the facts, I can’t help but wonder if the passenger’s death had something to do with the delay.”

    This is textbook Betteridge’s Law right here.

  16. A 13hr delay in a coach seat will DEFINITELY cause a DVT, that will dislodge to cause a stroke or even a PE. I don’t know what restrictions were placed on the passengers while they were on the ground, but if it involves some sort of restrictions for movement within the cabin, this could end up in a big costly law suit for Etihad.

  17. the exact same situation happened to me last year. I was flying from JFK to DOH through AUH on a short business trip but because of the fog my flight from JFK got delayed for a day. I asked the airport staff to put me on the direct QR flight on the same day. The check-in agent had no authority to rebook me on a different carrier, but had to contact the head office in abu dhabi for an approval. No answer from the head office, so I had to wait at JFK for the fog in AUH to clear while I could directly fly to Doha. I realized that EY was one of the worst airlines in these situations because they have the most restrictive and customer-unfriendly procedure during IRROPs. Since then, I intentionally avoided EY but am curious to see if they actually learned from the last time…

  18. And yet airports like Amsterdam can fully function in the fog…..
    Shouldn’t the UAE airports be used to massive dust storms & fog by now ?

  19. Agree a long delay in an economy seat will increase the risk of DVT (although it’s by no means the certainty that one commenter said it was!) and were this to develop there would be a follow-on potential risk of this embolising to cause a PE. However unless they also had a PFO/ASD that allowed for paradoxical embolus then a DVT wouldn’t then translate into a stroke as were it to embolise it would normally stop in the lungs. I think it’s a case where we don’t have all the facts (such as their past medical history), making it dangerous to speculate and even moreso to suggest causation.

    The fact that in the case of so many flights they kept passengers on board for so long is however shocking behaviour.

  20. Perhaps a pilot or someone more knowledgeable than me can respond, but why would fog prevent the airplane from taking off?

  21. This freaks me out. I have circulatory issues and this was actually the reason i began looking for ways to be able to fly long haul in business or first, after i ended up in the hospital after a long coach flight to asia (being 6′ 3″ doesn’t help). that happened even after i spend about 1/3 of the flight standing in teh rear galley.

    anyway, the thought of literally being imprisoned on an airplane to my health detriment is pretty scary. really, the only way off, would have been to create such a scene that you were a ‘threat’ and they went back to the terminal so you could be arrested. HOWEVER, this could backfire and one could end up being tied to their seat (as has happened before). imagine that for 13 hours + the flight. i would, no exaggeration, be dead.

    there needs to be an international standard with very hefty fines if they are violated. we’re paying passengers, not slaves en transit…

  22. Hard to say what the root cause or eventual outcome would be but I guess the silver lining is that both the destination and the diversion were located in Western Europe where consumer advocacy and aviation law seem to be taken a bit more seriously than in most other countries.

  23. did a bit of research on this, obviously this fog thing is more frequent than we think. It has happened at least in late Nov and early March last year. Check out the news entries from the National UAE. Same chaos but EY learned nothing… The main problem I see is that EY tries hard to keep everybody on EY flights but no alternative hub means everybody has to wait. You can see that from their facebook entries. People trying to go to Europe from South Asia are still waiting at their origin while EY could have rebooked them on other carriers. This is really a result of putting profit over customer. Oh wait, EY didn’t care about the profit? But they cared about customers even less lol

  24. I just read in a German forum from one passenger on this flight:
    – they were never at a gate position
    – the crew was switched before the actual flight
    – apparently on board Doctors were refused by crew members to help the sick passenger even when the crew members couldn’t find a vein
    – The poster didn’t state explicitly whether the passenger was in coach or not
    – it might have been adrenalin that was given intravenously

    I would very much like to know whether the delay was a cause for the stroke(?) and what really went down with the first aid situation!

  25. Just to clarify things:

    A DVT will NOT cause a stroke – not unless the patient has some sort of heart defect (PFO/ASD/VSD).

    Alan has it spot on.

  26. Etihad/AUH better change its rules…

    Saw on teh news today that AUH-SFO was delayed and passengers were kept on tarmac for 12 hours!! + 16 hour flight.

    28 hours on that plane (entire DAY + 4hours!) I just cannot imagine what the passengers had to go through. I am surprised that there wasn’t a mutiny.

  27. Hi Lucky – “Now, while we don’t know all the facts, I can’t help but wonder if the passenger’s death had something to do with the delay.”

    I think you meant “I can’t help but wonder if the delay had something to do with the passenger’s death.”

  28. That was my email to The National that was quoted.

    Just to add insult to injury, the Widow of the deceased was only moved from beside the empty seat of her husband on re-boarding in Vienna yesterday when other passengers made a bit of a fuss.

    What you also don’t know, the relief crew ordered a catering change during the 13 hour wait. They were not re-stocked with drinks or water before they left.

  29. @ Steven L – I don’t think Betterdige’s Law applies to a blog post where people are talking among themselves and sharing thoughts. This is not news site and Lucky is not a reporter.

    Agree with all the commenters there should be some sort of international law or investigation into these long delays. Just horrendous this can happen. However, I suspect nothing will happen as this delay happened in Abu Dhabi and they will probably not openly pursue or investigate their own airline. Still, I hope I am wrong.

  30. It only happened because of Abu Dhabi visa rules and regulation. Etihad is bound to let their passenger inside the aircraft because according to Abu Dhabi airport policy a passenger must have transit visa if his/her stopover in Abu Dhabi is more then 10 hr.(its not application on first and business class of etihad) and for getting transit visa passenger have to apply 3 days before to departure of flight along with hotel accommodation booking at Abu Dhabi.

  31. @mas – as mentioned previously the flight would not have been preclearance, however, I don’t think USCIS have objections to people returning after having precleared, I was in a delay situation where many pax deplaned after having precleared with no objections. In the end the flight was cancelled and we all returned and precleared again the next day before a rescheduled flight. It seems there is a standard procedure around this not uncommon event.

  32. I was on the plane, the passenger was in Coach.

    We were allowed to move freely around the plane and outside to the end of the bridge just before the tarmac, the business class became the meeting point, people made new friends, many stories from travels everybody had were shared and the situation on board was extremely calm. Some couples had a bit too much of alcohol and did not want to get off in Vienna but after they were convinced to leave the plane they remained calm.

    All snacks and food from First and Business was shared. The crew warmed food for people who were hungry, there was enough to drink on board, the crew offered water every 20-30 minutes.

    New catering was delivered but as already mentioned this was causing another massive delay. As well the almost 2 hours it took for one guy to get all the luggage of the leaving crew out of the cargo.

    What should imho be a change in the procedure is that free business class seats should be made available to elderly passengers. On this flight they were taken by some fit looking folks in their twenties.

    The last days were already extremely foggy so there should have been more stand by crews instantly available at the airport.

    I was also confused to see the doctors that helped initially back in their seats, that made no sense to me. But then I thought that there were maybe doctors in First or the front part of Business who were helping.

    Also, and we only received this information from the passengers behind the elderly couple, the man had already made strange noises for a longer time and after alerting his wife, they were told that he does this often while sleeping and that they should not be concerned. So this might already have been the turning point.

    On a side note, an elderly man was put into Business on the continuing flight from VIE to DUS yesterday (he was denied entry to the UAE in DXB because of his expired passport) on another flight and he was feeling very weak so 2 doctors entered the plane shortly after boarding on Sunday and after a few minutes they assured that he is good to fly and besides him standing up during take off and landing to get his carry on, everything went fine. But just guess the look on the faces of everybody when the doctors came on board and people started to calculate when the crew might reach their legal limit.

  33. I was in plane. The doctor who tried to save him sat next to us when they were waiting for medical assistance at Vienna.
    He declared the patient medically dead before landing.
    Passenger had heart operation in 2009.He was coming from holidays and had a back pain.
    I would say the reason for his death would be too much delay.
    Etihad crew was newly recruited and not experienced.
    I wouldnt blame crew but the delay should have been foreseen by airline.
    Timely decisions could have save the misery, we all went through.

  34. We were on a same Etihad flight ( EY 183) to San Francisco a day before, so January 2nd. Although there was no fog, the journey was the worst I have ever been on. They ran out of food, gave the wrong food to the wrong person etc. At one point a fight broke out between some passengers and the crew because they requested a vegetarian to eat an omlette for one day!. I believe the problem here is that they run this route with Jet Airways. These guys should be banned from flying into SFO.

  35. One interesting point to note is Abu Dhabi has pre clearance which means there are US Customs and Borders folks who clear folks on a US bound flight so they can simply walk off the plane with no customs and immigration when they arrive in the US. So to deplane a US bound plane means they have to be deplaned, all luggage has to be deplaned and checked again as it will not be checked on the US end. Same for immigration. the facilities for Pre Clearance have a smaller capacity than for the general checkin. All of this must play into a reluctance to deboard and reboard a US bound flight.

  36. @ Prabuddha — The SFO flight doesn’t use the Pre-Clearance facility in Abu Dhabi. Neither does the second daily JFK flight, as the facility isn’t open at night.

  37. What a horrific incident. I seriously thinking of cancelling my MUC-AUH flight scheduled for end of Jan.

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