KLM 787 Operates Nine Hour Flight To Nowhere

Filed Under: Air France/KLM

Passengers on KLM’s Saturday flight to Rio de Janeiro had quite a long day.

KLM flight to Rio de Janeiro returns to Amsterdam

On Saturday KLM flight 705 was scheduled to fly from Amsterdam to Rio de Janeiro. The flight was operated by a Boeing 787-9 with the registration code PH-BHD, that had been delivered to the airline in January 2016 (so it’s roughly five years old).

As reported by The Aviation Herald, about 4hr30min into the flight (roughly 620nm south of the Azores Islands) and at 36,000 feet, the outer pane of the right hand cockpit windshield cracked. It’s reported that a loud bang could be heard even by passengers in the cabin, though the pilots reported to ATC that “only the outer pane” was cracked, “so no very big damage of the window.”

The crew made the decision to return to Amsterdam. That makes sense, so that maintenance can fix the plane most easily. After all, you generally prefer to have a plane with issues at a hub, where it’s potentially cheaper and faster to fix, rather than at an outstation.

The plane touched down in Amsterdam 9hr10min after takeoff, and about 4hr40min after the decision had been made to turn around.

What happened to the passengers?

One of the challenges with international flight cancelations, particularly in countries that allow sterile transit, is that not all passengers are eligible to enter the country. That’s true even more than ever before in the coronavirus era, where the EU has particularly strict entry requirements.

Once the plane returned to Amsterdam this wasn’t as easy as just rebooking passengers on the next available flight (which would have been in two days), since many would have likely been stuck in the terminal.

Fortunately KLM acted quickly, and the airline found a replacement 787-9 and crew to operate this flight just hours after it returned to Amsterdam. That 11hr13min flight operated without issues, and arrived in Rio de Janeiro in the early morning hours of Sunday, roughly 14 hours late.

Bottom line

On Saturday KLM operated a roughly nine hour flight to nowhere, which happened after a 787-9 windshield cracked over the Atlantic Ocean. It’s understandable the airline would want to bring the plane back to base with such an issue, even if it didn’t pose any immediate danger.

Fortunately the airline acted swiftly and had a replacement aircraft ready to go within a couple of hours, so the passengers were “only” delayed by about 14 hours (which isn’t bad when you consider the situation).

We hear about these “flight to nowhere” situations every so often, and this isn’t even the longest such KLM flight I’ve written about. In November 2019 a KLM 747 due to operate from Amsterdam to Mexico City operated an 11 hour flight to nowhere, due to volcanic activity.

  1. Should have gone to Morocco. Much quicker and Royal Air Maroc would have been happy to provide a replacement part (they also have dreamliners).

  2. @Max likely the crew would have timed out and they’d have all the complication of being in a non-EU country with a plane load of passengers from places that may not be able to enter to stay in a hotel etc. Getting back to AMS and a quick swap to a new plane was probably the quickest and most simple way to get everyone to Rio ASAP

  3. Kudos to KLM to get another plane quickly and take passengers to their destination. I’m sure their butts had enough flying for a while but they made it to their destination without any complications. Multiple times I had my flight return to departure airport due to a technical issue in the many years of flying and all I got from the gate agent after exiting the aircraft was a shoulder shrug or not seeing anyone from the airline.

  4. Sorry to hear they would have been struck in the terminal. Who would have been most likely to strike them?

  5. I have a question about the tracking map – not sure if it’s the first time I’ve noticed (which probably speaks to my attention to detail after seeing hundreds/thousands of these…), but what is the black part in the line after they cross Senegal? Do they lose radar/tracking in that part of the ocean/when it’s very remote?

  6. @Tortuga – I guess I should have been more specific. Not the light belt, I’m talking about the dotted black part in their flight route. Both maps have sections where it changes from purple to dotted black.

  7. @Peter – you were kind of right with your guess. They don’t lose radar, its just a lack of ADS-B receivers to track the flight on FR24. FlightRadar24 now uses satellite gps to show active flights as light blue in color when out of ADS-B range, but I don’t believe it shows on playback yet. Hence the dotted black line, which is just the great circle line between the two most recent ADS-B pings.

  8. @Peter: from the Flightradar24 FAQ (https://www.flightradar24.com/faq):
    ‘Flightradar24 coverage is only available in areas where someone has installed an ADS-B receiver and shares data with the Flightradar24 network. We are unable to provide coverage in areas where no ADS-B receivers are installed.’

    ‘Coverage depends on many different factors. The antenna needs to be placed as high as possible with free visibility in all directions. Normally the coverage is about 150-250 km in all directions, but it’s possible to have up to about 400 km of coverage with a well-placed installation.’

    I assume the purple flight route represent the coverage whilst the dotted black flight route doesn’t and is visually included linking the separated coverage. Can imagine coverage over the Atlantic is particularly scare and dependent on ships with abovementioned receivers and antenna’s in reach.

  9. @Max
    If the window continued to crack then most likely they would have, however it made more sense to return to Amsterdam given they have the maintenance staff in AMS vs either hiring third party mechanics, trying to work out a deal with RAM, or flying mechanics down, which during COVID massively increases the logistics hurdles.

    Not the best for the passengers but means they won’t have to wait for a rescue flight to either take them back to AMS or to fly a rescue plane down to Morocco. That’s before considering that maybe not everyone can legally enter Morocco and so will have to keep passengers in the airport for an indeterminate amount of hours.

  10. It was going to Rio de Janeiro. It wasnt a flight to nowhere. Are all flights that return to their origin due to technical difficulties flights to nowhere? I don’t understand why they would be called that.

    There are flights being operated as also reported by you to nowhere that is a flight to and back to the origin as due to Covid and have passengers get a sense of flight again. Or even those that never leave the ground. This one is clearly neither.

  11. “…had been delivered to the airline in January 2016 (so it’s roughly four years old).”

    Actually, it’s almost five years old.

    Reminds me of the meme: “I still think 1990 was ten years ago,” which often describes my memory/perspective.

  12. Agree that KL did a great job. Perhaps the odds of having an aircraft available are better, and the consequences of returning are worse in times of covid …

  13. Well, airlines do have a lot of extra planes on hand due to the reduced flight schedules. Not surprised KLM had a spare plane. Also not surprised they didn’t continue to Rio. Can you imagine trying to get a replacement part there?

  14. Been there, done that.

    Sydney-SFO United flight ~18 years ago, 4.5 hours out of Sydney, medical issue (emergency?), turned around.

    9 hours to nowhere.

    Entire 747 put up in a hotel. We left 24 hours later on the original schedule.

  15. KL appeared to have done a great job. I had the salimilar experience on EWR >HKG Dec 2019 with UA. Turned back to EWR four hours into the flight.

    UA did find a replacement aircraft and we were back up in the air on the new plane a few hours after returning to EWR. But here is the kicker, the new aircraft was not catered with food… (all cabins were served only drinks).. for a 16 hour flight, that was not acceptable. So for 20+ hours, no food…Horrible experience with UA.

  16. Had the plane headed to the shores it’s very unlikely that a replacement window would be available there as the airlines there dont use the 787 so head back to Amsterdam is better and faster to repair the jet as qualified guy plus must be available not likely in stores but would be at km hub airport

  17. @Mark G – no issues with replacement windshields in GIG.

    @Marco – agreed. It was a flight to GIG, not “nowhere”. It became a flight to AMS, again, not “nowhere”. It’s a strange term really.

    And the reason for the return rather than continue – avoiding the risk of further windshield failure at altitude over the Atlantic. Return to a location where a replacement can be effected and Customer Service can take care of the customers. 4+ hours flying should be about sufficient time to assign a new aircraft, clean and cater it, re-crew, new load plan, etc.
    KLM did well in this instance.

  18. I once had a 3 hour AA flight from Santiago to Buenos Aires. Because of thunderstorms at Buenos Aires, we diverted to Cordoba. We landed in Cordoba but didn’t pull up to a gate. We sat on the ground for several hours waiting for the thunderstorms to clear. We refueled and got airborne again, but by the time we reached Buenos Aires, the thunderstorms were back, so the pilot flew back over the Andes to Santiago where we landed nearly 12 hours after our departure. They bussed us to a hotel and rebooked on us on the next day’s flight. I lost patience and got AA to move me to an earlier LAN Chile flight so I could get to Buenos Aires in time to attend a show that my friends had booked for me weeks earlier. There is nothing more annoying than a long, long flight to nowhere followed by another flight that gets you to your destination 24 hours late.

  19. Exact same thing happened to me a couple of years ago, also KLM 787-9 AMS-GIG. If my memory serves well, it was PH-BHP, just a couple of months old back then. We had some delays while taxiing and the pilots found out just before take off, brought the plane back to the gates and we swap to another plane. Around 6 hrs delay in total.

  20. KLM is to be congratulated for the “passenger friendly” way they solved the issue, way before it became a problem. I shudder to think how any of the US Airlines or British Airways would have handled the issue. “British Airways is happy to rent you a one person inflatable dingy with one oar for only 100 pounds”. Quantities are limited however to the first 34 passengers. All others will have to rebook a flight at our convenience.”
    Nick “R, born in UK, lived in US for 52 years. The US, where flying is a full-on contact blood sport. LOL

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