Etihad Passengers Stranded On Tarmac For 12 Hours

Filed Under: Etihad

There has been some crippling fog in the UAE the past few days which has caused some serious operational disruptions for both Emirates and Etihad.

While major disruptions for an airline with just one hub are bad enough, it’s especially bad right after New Years, when flights are presumably packed to the gills.

One story making the rounds is about yesterday’s Etihad flight from Abu Dhabi to San Francisco, which was delayed on the tarmac in Abu Dhabi for 12 hours. Combined with a 16 hour flight time, that made for a 28 hour journey.


Via CBS San Francisco:

The airline wouldn’t allow passengers to get off, so some took to social media to vent that they were hungry, sleep deprived, and never flying with the airline again.

“Out of every airline, this has been the worst experience in my life,” said Vinay Ramakrishna. “There’s no sanitation, they’re out of water, out of tissues, out of apples, out of chocolates!”

In fairness, the whole running out of food thing isn’t limited to Etihad’s flights which are delayed by 12 hours. 😉

And being trapped on a plane for 28 hours is a serious issue, but of all the things to mention… tissues and chocolates?!

What’s especially odd is that Etihad has fudged the flight status on their website, claiming the flight really arrived in San Francisco at 1:30PM:


In reality the flight arrived after 6:30PM:


I have two general thoughts about the delay:

  • The tarmac rule indeed doesn’t apply outside the US, so in this case there’s nothing that can legally be done. That being said, it’s absolutely unacceptable to leave people on the tarmac for 10+ hours without giving them the option to deplane.
  • Was the crew also on the plane for 28 hours? If so, that seems like a serious safety issue. There are maximum duty days for crew for a reason, and surely 28 hours exceeds that? How alert can pilots and cabin crew be after working for 28 hours?

Interestingly, on the other end of the spectrum, several Etihad flights have actually left early the past couple of days. For example, take EY11, the A380 service between Abu Dhabi and London. It left over an hour early today:


Why? Because if they stuck around they knew it would have canceled, and I guess the priority was to make sure the flight from London to Abu Dhabi wasn’t canceled as well. I guess they decided that leaving early minimized operational disruptions, even if it meant leaving a lot of people behind in Abu Dhabi.

Interesting stuff!

  1. Airlines should only leave early if everyone is on board, I find it hard to believe at an hour early they were able to do that. I would never fly an airline which does not give passengers the option to deplane. If they do it once, they will do it again and I will never chance it. Anyways as a rule i stay away from airlines from that part of the world.

  2. @ Jay — Totally agree on the second part, but disagree on the first part. If the alternative was a guaranteed cancellation, what’s wrong with them leaving early? Seems proactive on their part.

  3. Wow, this really sucks! I went through something similar myself and a bunch of us also took to twitter to try to find out answers. Last month I was in AMS enroute to NRT via KLM. KLM had a system wide IT failure and we were stuck on the plane for close to 5 hours. I can’t imagine being stuck there for 12 hours. They handed out water and snacks throughout the wait, but the IFE wasn’t on/working. I contacted KLM online via their complaint option about two weeks ago regarding the EU passenger law, but I haven’t heard anything back yet. Do you know how long it takes for them to get back to me? Should I contact them again? I tried calling, but they said I have to do it online. Thanks Lucky! Happy New Year =)

  4. This story doesn’t quite make sense to me and I feel like we are missing something. I understand that an airport can close due to the fog but that should not really affect ramp operations for planes that are already on the ground. Tarmac delays are for thunderstorms typically where the plane cannot pull back to the gate because the ramp has been closed due to fears of a lightning blot striking someone working near the gates.

    If I had to guess this sort of goes back to the pre-clearance issues and I wouldn’t be surprised if there is some odd rule that they cannot disembark the plane once it is loaded without having to un-clear US immigration/customs which in theory could mess with a strict interpretation of visa requirements for certain foreigners on the plane.

  5. @adamH The SFO flights don’t use the pre clearance facilities, which is a good thing considering that AUH has some of the longest CBP wait times, while SFO at 7AM has the shortest, as there are no other international arrivals besides the occasional non precleared Canadian A320 arrival and a United 737 flight from Mexico, (different side of the terminal) and because SFO is known for short CBP times

  6. I was in a somewhat related situation. My flight to Melbourne was according to check in agents and the information board delayed some 10 hours. Having a J class ticket, Etihad put me in the Park Rotana Hotel — quite a nice property.

    What’s strange is that the flight apparently departed on its original time, causing me to miss the flight entirely. They rebooked me onto EY450 to Sydney instead but that involved some 6 hours of waiting in the apartment (on top of the 10 “delay” that didn’t happen).

  7. @ AdamH — Agree it doesn’t make sense to me, but the nighttime departures out of Abu Dhabi don’t use the Pre-Clearance facility (which include the San Francisco flight and the second daily New York flight).

  8. The person quoted in the article is Indian/of Indian origin; some Indians refer to toilet paper as tissues.

    I don’t think he was referring to the tissues to wipe tears. 🙂

  9. I am not sure which flight are you talking about, but if it was EY183 on Jan 4, then I was supposed to be on it. At around 10pm they said the flight is late for 12 hours so they gave us a hotel. In the morning we find out that the flight left at 6am instead of the delayed time of 2pm and no body informed us. Right now we are re-booked on the same flight for Jan 5 at 2:15 in the morning. Abu Dhabi airport is a zoo with people shouting and yelling out of frustration. I have never seen so much chaos at any airport in my life.

  10. @ caveman — Ouch, hope you get home soon. This was EY183 which was scheduled to depart on the 3rd. Sounds like a mess!

  11. What I find hard to comprehend about this is that the Etihad flight was sat on the tarmac at Abu Dhabi – i.e. Etihad’s home hub. You’d have thought restocking the plane with the essentials (like, ahem, chocolate) and more would have been an absolute breeze.

  12. The complaint about running out of “tissues” might seem to be frivolous, but it could be someone who isn’t a native speaker referring to toilet paper.

  13. Also, from reading the comments on the CBS news story, it seems they did change crews out on the tarmac before departing.

  14. Given that the aircraft was parked at the gate, why didn’t they just allow passengers off? Was it because they were already pre-cleared?

    Also- severe fog should affect landings, but takeoff too?

  15. interesting.
    so only some US flights use the pre-clearance facility? which ones are those, do you know ?

    Also, happy new year!!

  16. @ Adi_T — Happy new year to you as well! Only the daytime US-bound flights use the facility, since that’s when it’s open. That includes one of the flights to JFK, as well as the flights to DFW, IAD, LAX, and ORD. The SFO flight and nighttime JFK flight don’t use the facility.

  17. What agony.

    I spent 6 hours once on a LH747 on the DEL tarmac due to fog.

    The captain gave everyone the option to return to the terminal, with the caveat that the plane would not return later – they’d have to take the next flight 24 hours later. No one took them up on it.

    Thank God I was in F, which may have been booked at 5/16. The FA broke out the Blue Label and served dinner, and we rested thereafter. I misconnected to my UA FRA-IAD, and “had” to take the LH FRA-IAD to get home. I should misconnect more often.

  18. @Ben, hmmmm I do not know I guess I am old school, I think everything should be on time, you only push back early because everyone is on board I have had that happen I think with SQ in SIN and in LHR.

    It also depends if people were informed and how they were accommodated. No one checks the plane for early departures but now that you have mentioned it, I think it happened to a friend of mine flying Air France from Singapore before christmas. His flight was moved up a whole 12 or 24 hours I do not recall.. how does that make any sense I have no idea…

  19. if someone had an health issue would they be let off?

    could be a trend of health issues if thats the case.

  20. The crew was onboard waiting for other crew to swap with them. Ones they got they new crew, they departed. Etihad is not serving chocolate

  21. I was in Abu Dhabi on that fateful day.
    My flight from Bangalore reached an hour late and I missed the connection to Vienna.
    Utter chaos at the Etihad Service desk. After reaching the front of the “queue”, I took a selfie to show the massive crowd behind me only to be threatened with police action by an Asian woman wearing a hijab who appeared inadvertently in the selfie as she chanced to be one among the huge crowd behind me.

    Anyway, I was booked on the next day’s Niki (Air Berlin) flight to Vienna and it was a nail biting finish. Used one of the sleeping pods while at the Abu Dhabi Airport. Not a bad place to be stranded in actually. Plenty of water holes and food. No chance of getting killed by a US cop.

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