Etihad Issues Statement After 28 Hour Flight To San Francisco

Filed Under: Etihad

Yesterday I shared the story of Saturday’s Etihad Airways flight from Abu Dhabi to San Francisco, which was delayed on the tarmac for 12 hours due to fog. Passengers weren’t allowed to deplane, so that made for a 28 hour flight.


This obviously raises a lot of questions. In the US we have the four hour tarmac rule, which is a case where government regulation makes sense, in my opinion, since we can’t really trust airlines to self regulate.

Anyway, an Etihad Airways spokesperson forwarded me the following statement regarding EY183, which I figured I’d share here:

Etihad Airways has apologized to passengers on board flight EY183 from Abu Dhabi to San Francisco, on Saturday, January 3, for the significant delay they experienced during the unprecedented fog disruption at Abu Dhabi Airport.

EY183 was one of the flights most affected by the runway closure at 2.30am and the subsequent congestion and significant delays which impacted all airlines.

During the time on the ground, awaiting permission to take-off, passengers were provided with refreshments and were updated about the reasons for the rolling delay caused by the extreme weather conditions.

The passengers remained on the aircraft as all efforts were being made to secure a new departure time. The delay was then compounded by the requirement to replace the aircraft’s ultra-long haul operating crew who had exceeded their flight time limitations.

The aircraft pushed-back at 2.15pm local time and took-off a short time later.

Etihad Airways always strives to deliver the highest standards of customer service and on this occasion our ability to do so was impacted by circumstances which were largely beyond our control.

I certainly understand the intent of wanting to keep everyone onboard. With weather delays, departure slots do often open up on short notice, and if everyone’s in the terminal it can literally take hours until a plane is ready for takeoff, given that many people would rebook/cancel and their bags would have to be offloaded, etc. It’s a logistical nightmare.

At the same time, common sense has to be applied at some point. It’s just not okay to keep people on a plane for 12 hours on the tarmac against their will. This is a case where I think there’s value in just delaying a flight by a certain number of hours so that people can make their own decisions as to what they’d like to do. Cancel the flight and reschedule it for 24 hours later, in my opinion, even if that means people would get to their destination later than if they just sat on the plane and waited.

Then again, I don’t envy the job of the ground staff that have to deal with the situation. Between visas, baggage, and rebooking, it’s certainly a sticky situation.

I get why an airline would want to keep everyone aboard for one hour… or two hours… or three hours… or even four hours, if it meant securing a departure slot as soon as possible. But where should the line be drawn?

What do you think? At what point should they just reschedule the flight for a later time as opposed to keeping everyone aboard?

  1. I think the four hour rule is as long as I’d want to be stuck on the plane not moving.

    I had a flight delayed in Montreal a couple of years ago due to weather issues at our destination. The captain allowed us all off the plane and asked us to stay close to the gate since we could be reboarding and underway at pretty much any time. This was after less than an hour on the a/c sitting at the gate. Once reboarding was announced we were all back on very quickly and on our way. I am sure it helped that is was a 70 pax plane. But I think she handled it all very well. I know those of us on the flight appreciated all of the info and a chance to stretch our legs, use the restrooms in the terminal, grab a snack…

    I was also delayed at ORD on a 757 that same summer for weather issues. In that case we sat at the gate for a couple of hours before we departed. I was in F so it wasn’t too bad and the FA’s were giving us snacks. If I had been crammed in the back which was full I would not have been so patient.

  2. Etihad sucks and should be punished for that. Causing a death! I mean seriously, I can do so much more with those few hours.

  3. Getting a bunch of sympathy from San Franciscans, of all people, about “unprecented fog” just seems hilarious to me.

  4. This is enough of a reason never to fly Etihad – 12 hours????? Inexcusable torture is what I’d call that. So let me get this right – the crew got to get off and be replaced but the passengers had to remain? That is just so wrong, my worst nightmare. Even if you were in First or the Apartment or whatever that is just way too long to be in a plane and certainly cruel and unusual punishment by the airline. Obviously in the Middle East passengers have no rights and are to do what they are told (even if it kills them)! UGH.

  5. That’s a GUTLESS statement. Get some balls, admit you screwed up and are learning from this and all passengers were offered a free flight as an apology.

    This statement is something United would put out…. Oh wait Etihad means United so guess they’re on par.

  6. What a load of absolute tosh! I read that statement as “F U. We’d do exactly the same again”.

    Also, why describe the fog disruption as “unprecedented”? Is this the first time fog has resulted in serious delays at AUH? I had the misfortune to booked on a flight out of AUH on 24th November 2014 and there was carnage there then as a result of fog (including cancellation of my QR flight – which actually wasn’t such a bad thing as it obviously saved me having to fly QR!!!). Another example – EY73 that day was delayed from 02:25 until 12:00! These very early morning departures were all showing delays ranging from 5hrs to just short of 10hrs. Whoever wrote that statement should refrain from using words that they don’t understand (i.e. unprecedented) or stop lying!!!

  7. The more I think about it the more egregious this seems. I’ve seen fog plenty of times. Yes it can roll in rather quickly but it doesn’t just appear in one second, and the weather watchers know its movement. So why did they even depart the gate? Surely the weather watchers knew that it was dense flight-disabling fog. I’ve experienced fog delays at Boston’s Logan. I remember distinctly one time that the fog started rolling in when we were waiting to board. It wasn’t there when I arrived at the gate but it was thick just before boarding. So we just didn’t board until it had cleared sufficiently.

    I realize that they can’t control the weather, but they can control whether they depart from the gate or keep passengers hostage. I hope they padded the passenger’s accounts with plenty of miles.

  8. If they have to replace the crew due to exceeding flight time work limitations, then it’s probably a good idea to deplane all passengers and reschedule the flight. That’s common sense at work!

    Back in 2010, there was a HUGE snowstorm blizzard in New York City the day after Christmas. I was scheduled to be on Emirates A380 JFK-DXB. After a few hours delay, they boarded us and then we waited, and waited, and waited for the plane’s departure. That A380 was packed full and we sat there for 6 hours before they deplaned us due to flight crew work limitations. I’m not sure why that 4 hour tarmac rule wasn’t enforced. Overall I was comfortable since I was sitting in the upper deck but I can only imagine what economy/lower deck must have felt like in a fully packed flight.
    Eventually they rescheduled the flight for the next day.

  9. “reasonable” is rather much a tough word and the array of facts and circumstances which airlines face render these decisions ill suited for one size fits all regulatory fixxes.

    I am loathe to second guess the on-the-fly decisions of those who must balance numerous priorities. This can be especially true with fog – yes, there are weather predictions to use as an aid, but what would the pax say if they had deplaned, only to look outside the terminal as the fog burned off 5 minutes later? They’d all be kvetching about how off loading turned out unnecessary?

    I know it is frustrating – I spent 6 hours on the tarmac in fog at DEL 5 years ago. My LH 747 was first in the queue for take off. Being in F made it quite bearable, but it would have been absurd to give up the take off position.

    Every situation is unique, and I am reluctant to engage in monday morning quarterbacking, judging the decisions made by those who must balance competing interests.

  10. why does fog prevent the departure to begin with? it’s not like these planes fly on visual… does fog really matter?

  11. I agree with the general sentiment that this response seems to gloss over the severity of the delay and the lack of responsible planning and reasonable options from the airline. I break up long trips intentionally because after a certain number of hours I become seriously claustrophobic. I don’t expect the airline to read my mind or to take care of this for me. Instead I take responsibility for my situation and schedule my own flights in a way that avoids any distress. A couple extra hours might be doable but twelve extra hours would be extremely stressful for me. It’s terrible to think that my only options would be limited to suffering through it or creating a scene bad enough to be forcibly removed. Neither of those outcomes is acceptable to me and it presents a strong disincentive to ever fly Etihad in the future.

  12. same “fog” caused a back up of 600 passengers in Phuket waiting for Eithad flights

    and no communications to their customers as to the situation

  13. Flight EY 23 to Duesseldorf was 30h delayed – 13h waiting on a runway.
    Later a 73 y old male pax passed away causing an emergency landing in vienna.


  14. That passengers don’t lose it and demand to be let off is amazing to me. It’s creepy, the “authority” we allow airlines, as we perceive ourselves to be hostage in places far from home and seem to lose any sense of self-determination.

  15. FWIW, my business partner’s son, daughter-in-law and two small kids were set to return to NYC from Aruba on Friday, Jan 2. The flight was delayed 6 hours due to equipment problems. Mind you, they had not even boarded but having already cleared US Customs in Aruba, they were stuck in the airport.

    Jet Blue contacted all of the passengers the next day and refunded the money for the flight. It was a lousy day for them and it would have sucked no matter what Jet Blue did, but how impressive is that?! Not holding my breath for Etihad to do anything other than say “S#!t happens!”

  16. @J (and anyone else who’s not been following)

    There have been TWO DIFFERENT Etihad incidents in the past couple of days:

    1) The 12-hour ground delay for SFO, and
    2) The 13-hour ground delay with the flight to DUS where a 73 year-old man died

    SFO was not the death flight.
    DUS was the death flight.

    It’s also not entirely clear to me if the DUS flight had a delay of 13 hours, or if after the delay of x hours, the plane diverted to VIE, resulting in

  17. I’m wondering if I would be upset stuck on Etihad’s new A380 in an Apartment. 🙂 Would they allow me to have the bed made up so I could sleep?

  18. Common sense needs to be applied and communicated. In the US, I’m not a fan of the four hour rule but at least I know what the limit is and always carry snacks/water with me (I’ve done many a 3 hour tarmac wait and cookies help and make new friends).
    I’m surprised that no one caused a scene to go back to the gate at any point (I wonder what the penalties/fees would be?) because as mentioned before you are being held hostage essentially. While the airlines play with the risk, revenue and materiality of it all, passengers have become numb and accepting of fees, smaller seats, no food, delays, etc. While the airline can’t control the weather, they can control how they treat their customers and in this case, not so well – their crew gets to leave/abandon ship while leaving their pax behind. Great Duty of Care. That is bad business all around but they are in the transport business of going from point A to (eventually) point B they are not in the customer service business of making us happy with the experience. To go back and rebook or fly later would have cost a lot of money and it’s about money not people.

  19. @philatravelgirl Interviews with passengers show that apparently lots of people “caused a scene”, but that the airline ignored them and kept them imprisoned.

    This is what happens when you give control of your safety to an airline’s discretion.

    UAE should have the 4 hour rule. It’s proven to work and delays have actually gone down since it was implemented, to the contrary of the grave warnings from the ninnies at the airlines — and some bloggers too — who have proven once again to either be liars or ignorant about their own business.

  20. To be fair, since this is a public statement, they don’t describe what, if any, compensation Etihad provided to passengers on the flight. We’re assuming there was none, but we don’t know that to be the case.

  21. Can’t there be a virtual line of departures created so once the weather clears estimated departure times are handed out so people can wait in the terminal and be reboarded in advance of their takeoff slot. That seems to be what they do in the US? At some point they give up, deboard and when the weather clears and a new time is calculated they set a time to reboard. Unfortunately it took regulations to force airlines in the US to think a little more in the interests of their customers comfort. Without regs, it was purely the airlines operational best procedure that trumped any customer comfort concern.

  22. Etihad has lied to the passengers. Abu Dhabi airport website listed the new departure time at 2:15 pm hours before the scheduled departure time(2:15am). Etihad claims that the crew was looking to get a new departure time which is BS. This is not the first time fog has caused an upset. Etihad doesn’t seem to have learnt from it. I was supposed to be on this flight but thankfully cancelled it due to personal reasons.

  23. To answer the question the question why can’t aircraft take off in thick fog … they could, but if something goes wrong and they need to return to the airport immediately after take-off, the situation becomes very dangerous. Most planes do not have the systems in place to allow zero visibility landings (and most pilots aren’t rated for such landings.) Now if you’re on Alaska Airlines, piece of cake! Since they deal with fog so much, their aircraft have the equipment and crews are trained to land in pea soup.

  24. Interestingly, Part of the statement: “The delay was then compounded by the requirement to replace the aircraft’s ultra-long haul operating crew who had exceeded their flight time limitations.”. They had to replace the crew but thought it was OK to keep passengers on board.

  25. What puzzles me is that not one person thought to fake a medical emergency.. Instigate an uprising .. No? Well then every single passenger on that plane is a better person than I am

  26. In the US, you have the 4-hour tarmac delay rule. In the EU, courts have ruled that delays of 3 hours or more entitle the passenger to compensation as though his flight had been cancelled.

    I think it is safe to say that a 4-hour tarmac delay is about the maximum anyone should stand.

  27. The real reason is that all flights into the US from AUH have CBP pre-clearance. This effectively means that once on board, passengers are in US Territory. If they have to deplane they have to exit the US and then re-enter US through the CBP counters. This is a logistical nightmare. The CBP, like any other Govt. organization has to clear all passengers again, even if they cleared them a few hours before. No wonder AUH is re thinking having US pre clearance in their new terminal coming up in 2017.

  28. @lantean you can fly blind.. But you cannot taxi blind.
    @mikepalmer hows that? ILS class C airports AFAIK is full autoland in newest gen aircraft, but I didn’t knew it worked for taxiing in thick fog.

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