A Lufthansa A380 Had A 7 Hour Flight To Nowhere Today

Filed Under: Lufthansa

There are a variety of reasons that flights divert. Sometimes it’s due to a medical issue, sometimes it’s due to a mechanical issue, sometimes it’s due to a security issue. However, generally speaking (though not always) when a flight diverts, it does so to the nearest practical airport.

That wasn’t quite the story for today’s Lufthansa flight 440, which was operated by an A380, and scheduled to fly from Frankfurt to Houston. The plane spent nearly seven hours in the air, though it ended up flying from Frankfurt to… Frankfurt. The plane had just passed Iceland when the decision was made to turn around, so it flew a total of 3,500 miles, which is the same as the distance between London and New York.

FlightAware screenshot of today’s LH440

Lufthansa hasn’t revealed the reason for the diversion, and even though I’ve tried to dig into it and have asked around, I haven’t been given any sort of a reliable answer.

However, generally speaking when a plane returns to its hub so many hours into a flight, it’s not due to a medical or a serious mechanical problem. If either of those were the case, they’d divert to the nearest airport, which in this case would have been Keflavik in Iceland.

Instead there’s typically one of two reasons for something like this:

  • There’s a mechanical problem that doesn’t pose an active threat to the plane, but that would be much easier to fix at a hub than an outstation, especially for an A380; in other words, Lufthansa would rather inconvenience the passengers onboard in order to get the plane back in service sooner, rather than potentially stranding the plane in Houston for an extended period of time
  • For whatever reason there were some passengers who weren’t supposed to be onboard, and/or there was some immigration issue that forced the plane to turn around (this is less likely, but you never know)

I’m sure Lufthansa didn’t make this decision lightly. In addition to the huge cost of operating an A380 for that long, all passengers on the plane will also be entitled to 600EUR cash compensation, plus hotels, plus meal vouchers, per EU261. The plane has 509 seats, so assuming it’s full, that’s over 300,000 EUR in compensation alone, not factoring in meal vouchers, the cost of hotels, etc. Of course this assumes everyone requests the compensation, which almost never happens.

Not to make light of the inconvenience this caused people (since I’m sure some people had places to be), but if I were in Lufthansa first class, I sure wouldn’t mind a free seven hour flight, two visits to the Lufthansa First Class Terminal, caviar, and 600EUR of compensation.

Was anyone on LH440 today, who can chime in about what happened?

  1. Well, I just requested compensation for 4 hour delay on my flight last week… let’s see how that works.

    And I did get meal voucher.. full… wait for it… 6.00 €

  2. @Craig: doubtful. They dispatched a replacement aircraft. If there was the assumption of an active threat they wouldn’t have done that. It’s pretty easy to fly out a replacement since you only need three pilots and a FA or two to ferry an aircraft.

    Some sources say it’s a medical emergency. Which makes me curious how serious it was, to return to Frankfurt vs Hamburg, London, Amsterdam, etc.

  3. @Lucky You don’t know whether comp of Eur600 is due unless you know the exact cause
    If it were medical then it wouldn’t be

  4. Back in April I took a KLM 789 from GIG to AMS. When we were on the point of leaving the South American continent (near Fortaleza) the captain decided to turn around and go back to GIG. They told us they had a mechanical issue… 6 hours flying in a nice business class cabin.

  5. I was at the flight, they were saying that one engine was leaking oil, that mechanics were checking engine before the flight and said it is ok, but that is what happened. I believe we could have made it to Houston, but they did not say why they decided to return. Moreover, this is second time in 2 consecutive days that I got delayed on lufthansa flight, and got very pissed off. I do not recommend this airline; the way how they treat people after cancellation is not good. Also, their compensation policy is hidden, and they do not let people to talk with anyone about it, but have to send some emails.

  6. Once I was on LHR-DFW on BA and we diverted to KEF due to medical, we never went near the pass terminal though and they couldn’t refuel a 777; we had dumped fuel to land, couldn’t make it to the US so we turned around to LHR and flew again the next day.

  7. @lucky it’s because the plane was leaking oil and they didn’t want to risk flying it over the Atlantic ocean where they would have less emergency landing options should the situation deteriorate.

  8. Sixteen years ago today on 9/11, I was on a Delta Flight from FCO to JFK when the FAA shut down all airports in the USA and my flight turned around after several hours somewhere over the Atlantic and landed in AMS. I spent the next five days there, without any compensation, waiting to get back home. There must have been dozens of flights that ended up there because there wasn’t any hotel space. Fortunately, I had friends back home who had family in AMS who took me in. Not sure why the decision was made for AMS, but it was not the worst place to be at that moment in history.

  9. @Shg “Couldn’t fuel a 777” for what reason? That sounds like a bogus story from BA… Plenty of MD-11s, 787s, and other large aircraft have served and diverted to KEF regularly over the past. It’s inconceivable that they couldn’t fuel it due to not having the right connector or something of that sort – most commercial aircraft use the same few connectors to prevent exactly such an occurrence.

  10. Having just flown first class on a Lufthansa 380 from LAX to Frankfurt, I was highly disappointed by the service, food, only 2 bottles of Grand Siecle champagne for 8 in 1st class compared to their subsidiary Swiss which has been consistently much better in all areas.

  11. More likely a crew duty issue. By diverting to BIKF crew times out and pax are stranded as a new aircraft is brought to BIKF.
    By returning to FRA replacement aircraft and crew could be arranged minimalizing delay.

    Also depending on what broke RVSM requirements and/or ETOPS requirements could have been modified thus changing flight levels, airspeed, fuel requirements etc…

  12. Also, if its a major engine issue, it is probably alot easier to fly back to FRA on 3 engines, then landing in KEF and either flying a mechanic or a entire new engine up to KEF, I wonder if KEF has the facilities to support a A380?

  13. Was not in this LH flight but back in 1999 I was on a KLM flight from Amsterdam to Almaty and after circling Almaty for about 45 minutes due to the inability to land in heavy fog, the captain turned the flight around and we went back to Amsterdam. Flight had enough fuel as there was an aviation fuel shortage in Kazakhstan in those days so flights carried a lot of extra fuel. It was a 15 hour flight to nowhere!!!

  14. The same scenario happened to me 3 years ago on a Lufthansa flight from Munich to Dubai, which was turned around due to exactly the first scenario you’ve imagined, Ben, a slight mechanical issue they’d rather fix at their home base rather than an outstation. Needless to say I almost missed a friend’s wedding due to the 24h delay, and was denied the €600 compensation when I requested it, only to obtain it after going to court (using the AirHelp service).

  15. 500 * 600€ = 300,000€ compensation?
    The reality will be different: only half of the passengers will claim it — the other half either not knowing their rights or just believing that LH did “the right thing” (instead of crashing into the ocean).

    LH will deny all of those claims noting that “mechanicals” are completely out of their responsibility. 90% of the people will believe that. The other 10% will have to write back or sue LH and will then get their 600€.

    So the actual compensation paid by LH will be around 300,000€ * 50% * 10% = 15,000€. Not really so much of a problem.


  16. Lufthansa/United will never pay out. I just went through that with another Lufthansa flight. They will straight up lie to you and can make up any of a number of excuses.
    My flight and customer service experience was so bad I’ll never fly with them again.

  17. Exactly the same situation on 31 July 2016, AZ0620 FCO-LAX we were abeam Iceland and made a 180 back to FCO without any explanation. Left FCO for LAX the next morning on A/C with same tail number. No explanation or compensation offered. Perhaps it takes DHS 3 hours to review the PAX manifest.

  18. You forgot also the compensation for the return flight from Houston to Frankfurt which will be late as well! 😉

  19. €600 compensation is only due for delays within their control. Mid-flight technical faults are generally classified as “unexpected circumstances” which are exempt from payment, so I wouldn’t be overly optimistic.

  20. I was on LH430 on 19th August and same thing. We had an engine shut down and we turned around to Frankfurt. 6 hours Frankfurt to Frankfurt on a 747-8

  21. Certain types of mechanical issues require return to main base depending on the distances, emergency is different and you land where you can.
    If it’s not an emergency there is no point in diverting to a place that doesn’t regularly operate that type of aircraft because there are no parts and/or qualified technicians on top of crew duty times and lack of options for customer rerouting.

  22. Similar happened Sunday night with Korean’s 902 CDG to Incheon. Took off, climbed no higher than 10,000, circled around NE of CDG and landed after 90 minutes. KAL cancelled the flight, citing aircraft operational reasons on their website.

  23. “Lufthansa hasn’t revealed the reason for the diversion, and even though I’ve tried to dig into it and have asked around, I haven’t been given any sort of a reliable answer.”

    Your kidding right? Do you not see the enormous green thing over Florida?

  24. This is the most ridiculous inconsiderate article I have read ! Why would anyone enjoy flying to nowhere for 7 hours in a cramped plane and then be racially disgraced by the Lufthansa flight attendants – this just shows the ignorance of the writer about the actual inconvenience caused to people by the Lufthansa airlines ? Wonder if he is somehow associated with Lufthansa

  25. I saw this on facebook and is worth reporting both the attitude of Lufthansa and they way they treated passengers from India
    Shikha Gupta‎ to Lufthansa
    September 14 at 11:04am ·
    I was one of the unfortunate ‘Indian’ passengers on the LH 440 flight from Frankfurt to Houston on Sept 11th. The flight travelled from Frankfurt to Frankfurt on Sept 11th due to oil leakage issue and in order to save their costs, they put 500+ passengers through a lot of inconvenience. I was traveling from Delhi to Frankfurt (8 hour flight) with a 3 hour layover at Frankfurt airport only to board this unfortunate flight. We left Frankfurt around 10am and returned at 4.30pm.
    On landing back in Frankfurt, I was one of the 500 people waiting in line to speak to a Lufthansa Service Associate. Even though they had enough notice (4.5 hours when the pilot decided to turn around from Iceland back to Frankfurt), there was absolutely no planning by the Lufthansa representatives. You don’t want to stand in line after spending 20 hours traveling. However, there was no option and I had to wait in line. While waiting in line, I tried speaking with a service associate who was segregating business and first class customers with the economy class, I asked him why it’s taking so long and what are our possible options, are we getting a different flight or are we flying tomorrow etc., he spoke rudely with me and asked me to just wait in line and talk to service associates at the counter. When I told him that will take a long time and if he has any information he should share with everyone waiting, he said just stand in line and wait.
    There were 7 service associates catering to 500+ passengers when there were vacant spots that could have been occupied by 5 other service associates to speed up the process. Instead, when their shift ended at 6 the associates conveniently left for home. An elderly white lady who had been waiting with us went to ask the Lufthansa staff for more associates and took pictures of the staff who were being rude to her. The staff in turn called the police! The police confronted her and instead of helping her and the rest of us took the airlines side. We were standing in line since 4.30pm and this happened around 7.30pm. At around 8.30pm, I was finally able to speak with the associate (she didn’t wear a name badge unlike the others but she can be described as an elderly woman with green glasses and an extremely rude disposition). I was able to get the same flight for Sept 12th, however, when I asked for hotel accommodation, I was told that because I do not hold a valid Schengen visa I cannot get a hotel for my overnight stay at the airport and that I should have a visa if I am in Germany. When I questioned that and explained to her that I do not need a visa if I am taking a connecting flight from Germany she casually told me “No hotel for you in that case”. I informed them of the one hotel at one of the airport terminals which did not require a visa and I was informed it is not for singles like me. They will first give it to couples/ families with children/ other passengers and then if there is any left, they will ‘consider’ me which would be around 10-11pm. I looked around and didn’t see any families waiting in line so asked her to provide me with the hotel. She said something in German to the associate sitting next to her (J. Green) and refused to provide me with the hotel. When I asked her where I should sleep for the night, I was informed I should sleep on the floor like the rest of the people in my country and that they would offer me a blanket and pillow. By then, I had realised this is a lost cause and she will not provide me with any hotel. When I asked for meal vouchers, she said come back in 2 hours. This conversation happened between 8.30-8.50pm and she wanted me to wait until 10.30-10.50 to get some food. I explained to her that I was tired and traveling for the last 20 hours and cannot wait another 2 hours only for the meal coupons! On ‘requesting’ for my entitlement, I got one 10 euro dinner coupon stamped for 11th Sept and one 10 Euro breakfast coupon stamped again for 11th Sept. When I asked if the breakfast coupon will be valid on 12th Sept since it had a 11th Sept date stamped on it, I was told by her ‘yes it will work, I can’t change the date on the stamp’. I again explained to her that all I want to know is if the coupon will work on 12th as 11th Sept had already almost ended and I wanted to at least know if I could use the breakfast coupon. She told me rudely that it would. I gave up and left from there.
    I booked that hotel at the airport for USD 288 and went to Gate Z. I checked in to the hotel and then when I asked the hotel for the nearest restaurants I was told the restaurants shut by 9pm and it was already 9.45pm. The associate was planning to give me the meal coupon by 10.30pm (I wonder what she was thinking – I am sure she knew no restaurants would be open at that time). While I was having this conversation with the receptionist I saw 1 couple and 1 single walk in to check in (they were standing behind me in the line). When I asked them if they got the room, I was told yes the airline gave it to them. They were ‘Non Indians’. I couldn’t believe my ears. By this time, I had no energy! I paid for my room. I didn’t have a place to eat and I was mistreated by the Lufthansa staff. Next morning, I tried using the breakfast coupon and as expected, it didn’t work as I was told it expired on 11th Sept. I wasn’t surprised. I boarded my flight and was given the last seat next to the loo.
    I am a frequent traveller and I have never been treated this way by any other airline. I often use Lufthansa but I would now ensure that I get it banned by my firm so that no other Indian has to go through what I did. #racistlufthansa #rudelufthansa #inhumanlufthansa #inconsideratelufthansa
    I think Lufthansa should take off the “Indian” advertisement that they play on their airlines claiming to be as Indian as Indians #moreindianthanyouthink
    As per law, I am entitled to 600EUR cash compensation, plus hotels, plus meal vouchers, per EU261 while all I got was a 20 Euro meal coupon which was useless for me.
    Thank you for this experience Lufthansa!

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