Passengers traveling on yesterday’s Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to San Francisco had quite the journey, and they didn’t even make it to their intended destination. I’m piecing together details best I can, so here’s my understanding of what happened (and if I got any details wrong, please let me know)…
In this post:
Cathay Pacific A350 diverts to Oakland
This incident happened on Sunday, February 4, 2024, and involves Cathay Pacific flight CX870 from Hong Kong (HKG) to San Francisco (SFO). The flight was operated by a seven-year-old Airbus A350-900 with the registration code B-LRI.
On this 6,927-mile flight, the jet was supposed to depart at 1:25PM, and land at 9:45AM the same day, after a 12hr20min journey. The flight was entirely routine, until it approached San Francisco. The weather conditions in San Francisco were awful yesterday, with gusty winds that impacted operations at the airport.
As the jet approached San Francisco, it had to enter a holding pattern due to weather at the airport. The plane ended up staying in a holding pattern for quite some time. Eventually the pilots made the decision to divert to Oakland (OAK), presumably because they only had so much fuel left, and conditions weren’t improving. The plane landed there at 10:05AM local time, 20 minutes after its scheduled arrival in San Francisco.
Cathay Pacific A350 then diverts to Los Angeles
Oakland isn’t that far from San Francisco, so in theory you’d think the airline would just let passengers off there, and arrange ground transportation. However, the logistics are more complicated than that:
- Oakland Airport’s immigration facility is only open for select hours (I’m not sure if it was open when the plane landed)
- The logistics of deplaning hundreds of passengers at an airport not normally served by that airline are very complicated
- No matter what, Cathay Pacific needed to reposition its aircraft to San Francisco, prior to operating the return flight to Hong Kong
The decision was made to refuel, keep passengers on the aircraft, and then fly to San Francisco when conditions improved. In the end, the plane spent about four hours on the ground, and at 2:10PM it finally took off, preparing to operate the short 11-mile journey across the bay.
Side note — it sounds to me like Cathay Pacific may have been violating the United States’ tarmac delay rules, unless passengers were given the option to get off the aircraft.
Anyway, as soon as the aircraft took off from Oakland, there was bad news, as San Francisco closed back down due to the weather conditions. So while the pilots circled for a bit, they knew they needed a new plan.
Rather than diverting back to Oakland, at this point the decision was made to divert to Los Angeles (LAX). The plane landed there around 90 minutes after it took off, at 3:40PM. So at this point the flight was around six hours behind schedule, and 337 miles from its intended destination.
It’s not entirely clear why the decision was made to divert to Los Angeles rather than returning to Oakland:
- Had conditions deteriorated in Oakland as well, or was the immigration facility not open?
- Did the airline decide it was just logistically easier to fly everyone to another Cathay Pacific station with frequent service, rather than to an airport the airline doesn’t ordinarily serve? That way the airline would have its own staff to help passengers, and everyone could easily be rebooked on a flight to San Francisco
Cathay Pacific A350 still on ground in Los Angeles
As you’d expect, the intended return flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong, CX879, ended up being canceled. As of the time of this post, the A350 is still on the ground in Los Angeles.
Presumably that partly comes down to pilot rest requirements, as this crew wasn’t in a position to fly this aircraft even further, without some rest period. In recent years, Cathay Pacific has closed its pilot bases in the United States, and this is one of the downsides of not having reserve pilots at an outstation.
It remains to be seen if the airline just eventually flies this plane back to Hong Kong empty, or if it flies it to San Francisco, and then carries passengers from the canceled flights.
The logistics here sure are complicated, since you’re not only dealing with weather, but also with contractual limitations for duty hours. I’m not sure if Cathay Pacific’s pilot contract would even allow pilots to reposition the plane to San Francisco, and then immediately operate an ultra long haul flight from there. Relations between pilots and management at the airline are also not great right now, so I can’t imagine pilots would be looking to do any favors.
A Cathay Pacific Airbus A350 flying from Hong Kong to San Francisco first diverted to Oakland, and then to Los Angeles. This unfortunately comes down to a very bad weather day in San Francisco, though that’s exacerbated by the complexities of airline operations, especially at outstations. I’m curious to see where the Cathay Pacific A350 flies next…
What do you make of this Cathay Pacific double diversion?