Hawaiian Flight Turns Back To Hawaii More Than Halfway To The Mainland

Filed Under: Hawaiian

I hadn’t heard about this story before, though reader Ari2244 made a post about it in the “Ask Lucky” forum:

I was on the flight in this article below. We were almost to California when they turned us around. Do you think they should have landed in California instead of turning us around? It tacked on about 9 hours to our trip and they haven’t offered us compensation, should we expect something?


P.S. I was sitting right by him, crazy stuff for sure.

If you’re like me and hadn’t heard about this incident, a Hawaiian flight from Honolulu to New York returned to Honolulu due to a passenger who threatened to kill his girlfriend, her children, passengers, and crewmembers. Per CBS News:

A New York City-bound flight returned to Honolulu after a passenger who had been drinking allegedly threatened to kill his girlfriend, her children, passengers and crewmembers, the FBI said.

According to an FBI affidavit, James August allegedly slapped a female flight attendant’s shoulder and threatened his girlfriend.

Flight attendants reported that he yelled, swore and threatened to punch his girlfriend in the face.

The plane left Honolulu at about 4:30 p.m. and returned at about 9:30 p.m., said Hawaiian Airlines spokeswoman Ann Botticelli.

What a horrible situation. The flight from Honolulu to New York seems to take about nine hours on average, and routes right over Southern California, per FlightAware:


Since it’s an eastbound flight, there’s a tailwind — in the other direction the flight seems to average 10-11 hours, due to a headwind.

What’s a bit puzzling here is why the flight returned to Honolulu, rather than continuing to Los Angeles, for example. It looks like the flight from Honolulu to Los Angeles that day on the same type of plane took about five hours, while the flight in question was in the air for 5hr31min. That seems to suggest that the plane was more than halfway to the mainland (at least in terms of flight time), given the headwind they faced on the way back. Flightradar24 has a playback of the diverted flight.


So, with a “dangerous” passenger onboard, why would the plane return to Hawaii? I’m not questioning the motives of the captain or airline, as I’m sure they had a reason. What I can come up with is the following:

  • Perhaps it was cheaper to return to Honolulu so the plane was back at its hub, and they could easily get a replacement crew, etc.
  • On the other hand, by continuing to Los Angeles they could have dropped off the passenger and continued the flight, unless that would have caused them to exceed their duty day, which often kicks in when the plane’s door opens; if the onward flight would have been canceled, they could have theoretically booked passengers on other airlines, though this was the Monday after Thanksgiving, so…

So I’m guessing the decision was motivated by logistics. Regardless, there’s no doubt this was a big inconvenience for passengers, as they essentially took a nearly six hour flight to nowhere.

Are passengers on the flight due any compensation? Logically I’d say no, in the sense that Hawaiian suffered the most from this incident, given the tens of thousands of dollars of fuel they burned, etc. At the same time, in many cases airlines will offer passengers some sort of gesture of goodwill, as a way of recognizing the inconvenience caused, even if it was out of their control.

Some might argue this should have been addressed on the ground before takeoff, based on what documents say:

Trouble started before the flight took off from Honolulu International Airport when a crying 11-year-old boy told a flight attendant “can you please just keep him away from us?” the document said. August’s girlfriend and her three children refused to return to their seats in the same row as him.

Regardless, this seems like a bad situation for all parties involved.

  1. I wonder if the girlfriend and kids are from Hawaii? if they needed to get child protective services involved I would assume that it would be better for the kids to stay with family members instead of strangers in Southern California.

  2. If this flight originated inthe EU there would be a compensation. The compensation is not based on the delay in take of time but on how many hours you arrive late at your destination.
    Of course the airline could claim these costs ahead on its own costs from this passenger.

  3. While one could argue about compensation, the reason why the plane was turned around, I suspect, is due to crew regulations. The plane easily would have made it to LAX/SAN but then the crew could have possibly timed out before the flight could resume. Once the plane landed in LAX, it potentially becomes a longer process for a crew to relieve the diverted plane’s crew.

    That’s my theory. IMO it’s a coin flip whether this is right or not. I know that it seems that airlines prefer to divert their planes to hubs. My friend was flipping out how her US flight didn’t get diverted to BOS or NYC but went back to PHL. The reason was the maint facility at PHL and availability of crew.

  4. On my flight to Australia in September, we turned around went back to LAX due to a fuel issue. The pilot and crew had debated landing in HNL (as it was closer), but ultimately decided it was better to return to our departure point. (We left LAX at 11:30pm, and arrived back at 5:30am)

    All the passengers were booked into a hotel and given meal vouchers and were re-booked onto flights the following night.

    No other compensation was offered (nor did I expect any).

  5. If the flight departed at 4:30 then returned at 9:30 that means it flew 2:30 hours away from hawaii, thats the half way point to california. It was prob a coinflip but they prob had a flight crew available in hawaii.

  6. Silly arm chair quarterbacking.

    So much easier to accommodate the passengers and/or reschedule the flight from Hawaiian’s hub in in HNL that after diverting to an outstation in CA where the flight would have in all likelihood cancelled due to crew hours.

  7. Interesting… I’m surprised Hawaiian didn’t offer some form of compensation, perhaps because it wasn’t a problem necessarily caused by the airline. I’ve taken Hawaiian a number of times, once we were delayed for 3 hours and compensated each passenger with a $250 gift certificate. However, when I did an emergency landing on United in El Paso due to a passenger who had a heart attack, we weren’t offered compensation.

  8. Regardless of rules, regulations and hubs , that’s all beside the point . Passenger safety should be the number one priority. This should have been addressed before departure , crew should have seen that this was going to be a problem. Because they didn’t the next step should have been to to go straight to LAX , despite any cost or inconvenience. Lives before logistics.

  9. Flying from Hawaii to mainland and back you use high density CEPAC routes from Oakland Oceanic. These are similar to victor airways in the US and do not change unlike the Atlantic tracks which do change daily.
    CEPAC routes flying east are R463, R465, R585, R577, R578. While the route stays the same the ETD “equal time distant” may be different than your critical point.
    Winds play a major role in determining the CP and it wont be exactly half the route.
    Also take into account a call from cockpit to company dispatch via SELCAL, SATCOM, or ACARS to get everyone on the same page and come to a conclusion.

  10. The flight crew should have zip-tied his hands behind his back, stuffed him in a closet and continued to NY. The thought of this 11 yr old crying and pleading to the flight crew to keep this abusive idiot away from them, is sad.

  11. Like “David Barker” wrote, they were only 1/2 way there. Correct! Even from the actual flight path you can see they were nearly dead center between the two cities. Better to go back. To the originating city than land in a 3rd city

  12. Hi lucky, This story is really horrible. Airplane members should have high security in the plane. they one should control to that person too.

  13. The number of passengers (and crew) requiring accommodations due to the diversion (and likely cancellation due to duty rules) would have been far less at HNL.

  14. A few years ago I was flying from HNL to Guam on United. An elderly man was wheeled onto the plane and I literally thought “that man looks like he is going to die.” After 4 hours, the pilot announced they were turning the pane around because a passenger needed medical attention. Shocker. We were closer to Guam than Hawaii. It was midnight at this point. I was dumbfounded.

  15. Misleading blog title. Should have been “Hawaiian Flight Turns Back to Hawaii More Than Halfway To The United States“. Just as numerous readers of this blog commented on how they traveled from Taiwan to China, or flew from China to Hong Kong, it is absolutely possible to fly from Hawaii to the United States.

    Ben also wrote: “That seems to suggest that the plane was more than halfway to the mainland”. His sentence sounds very awkward and his english a real eye-sore. He should have written like this: “That seems to suggest that the plane (from Hawaii) was more than halfway to the United States“. Now, that would make his writing more readable – as readable as US news media’s articles commenting on how Trump’s telephone call with Taiwan’s President infuriated China. (Actually, he should have called Hawaii’s President instead. That would surely not infuriate United States, since Hawaii and United States are two friendly countries. But I digress…)

  16. My aplogies for digressing and being off-topic in my earlier comment. The last part of my comment should have been: “(If only Ben has written that the flight was from Hawaii to the United States), that would have made his writing more readable – as readable as when Ben wrote (paraphrased) “Xiamen Airlines is one of the best Chinese Airlines….I do not consider Cathay Pacific and EVA air, when I talk about airlines in China”.

  17. Compensation may not be required by the airline but I suspect you could take the man who made the threats to small claims court. It should be pretty easy to get a statement from the airline as to his culpability and the police report. Then you’d just need to have a good accounting of the financial loss (e.g. hotel and food costs, any justifiable lost opportunity cost, etc)

  18. “Halfway to the MAINLAND” not “Halfway to the United States” is the correct phrasing. This flight is between two points in the United States. One writer comments that “Hawaii and the United States are two friendly countries”. We are in fact the same country, an American state, albeit a bit further away from the MAINLAND. When we fly to points in other states, we commonly say that we’re “flying to the mainland”.

    By the way Hawaiian’s crews flying the Honolulu-New York flight are all based in Honolulu. But the standard across the industry is to turnaround to Honolulu if the flight has not reached the “equal time point”. That point is calculated by the airline’s flight dispatchers.

    The flight did resume later that same night, from Honolulu to JFK..

  19. It’s very strange to know that, Hawaiian flight from Honolulu to New York returned to Honolulu due to a passenger who threatened to kill his girlfriend. It’s really strange. hahaha!

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