Emirates Cancels A380 Flight From Tokyo, Offers Sleeping Bags

Emirates Cancels A380 Flight From Tokyo, Offers Sleeping Bags

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An OMAAT reader (who asked to remain anonymous) shares an unpleasant Emirates experience that happened a couple of days ago on a flight departing Tokyo…

Emirates A380 flight canceled due to Narita Airport curfew

Emirates flight EK319 is scheduled to depart Tokyo Narita Airport (NRT) at 10:30PM and arrive at Dubai International Airport (DXB) at 5:30AM the following morning. While flying the Emirates Airbus A380 is usually a treat, that wasn’t the case for the nearly 500 passengers booked on this flight on Friday, December 23, 2022.

This incident came about due to a minor maintenance issue, which ended up causing much bigger issues due to the airport’s curfew. So, what happened? According to the reader:

  • The plane pushed back at 10:35PM, though within a few minutes the plane stopped, the lights were turned off, and there were no updates
  • At 10:45PM the plane returned to the gate without any announcement
  • At 11PM the captain explained there was a technical issue that needed to be resolved; there was reportedly a strong burning smell on the lower deck
  • At 11:45PM the captain announced the issue was resolved, so the plane pushed back and started to taxi to the runway; the plane taxied for around 10 minutes, but stopped at 11:55PM
  • Shortly after 12AM, the plane turned around; the captain announced that the runway was closed for maintenance and that they’d have to return to the gate, while the announcement in Japanese (correctly) reflected that the air traffic controllers refused takeoff due to the airport’s curfew
  • At 12:30AM the captain announced that management was trying to find a solution, but that they’d start a meal service onboard; there was no further communication from the crew for nearly two hours
  • At 2:25AM the crew announced that all passengers were to deplane; the upper deck was allowed to deplane first, followed by the lower deck

So at this point you have nearly 500 passengers in the Narita Airport terminal in the middle of the night. What happens next? Well…

Emirates A380 first class

Emirates’ terrible handling of this situation

When passengers were told to enter the terminal, they were expecting to be given hotel vouchers. They were instead handed sleeping bags and bottles of water, and told that the flight was rescheduled for 3PM that day, around 16.5 hours behind schedule.

At this point a few passengers (including the OMAAT reader) allegedly confronted the Emirates station manager, who claimed to have been unable to find rooms for everyone. He insisted that everyone must stay in the airport and that it’s not possible to leave. His tone changed after the CEO of a major Japanese company (who was on the flight) threatened legal action.

Finally by 3AM, the three people who had approached the manager were told that they could leave (of all the passengers, only a total of six were allegedly allowed to leave the airport). By 3:15AM, the reader was through exit immigration, with a “did not depart” stamp in his passport. There was a single taxi at Narita Airport at this point, so the three of them split that taxi, and fortunately they all lived in the same neighborhood.

Based on social media posts, it would appear that hundreds of people ended up having to sleep in the terminal in sleeping bags.

When the reader returned to the airport, the queues were allegedly ridiculous, and people were still asleep everywhere. He was told to go to the lounge instead. The lounge looked like it had been looted, and there wasn’t even bottled water anymore.

The flight finally ended up departing at around 4PM, and then arrived in Dubai after 10PM, around 16.5 hours behind schedule.

The flight ended up operating 16+ hours late

This situation was horribly handled

While airlines operate pretty reliably when you consider how complex operations are, sometimes things go wrong. That’s especially true if you have an airport with a curfew, and a flight that is only scheduled to depart a short time before it — any minor technical issue can lead to an overnight delay.

Airlines have a duty of care for passengers, especially when the delay is within the carrier’s control (which is what a maintenance delay is). We don’t know exactly to what lengths Emirates went to find accommodations for passengers. Presumably there were collectively 500 hotel rooms available somewhere, though maybe not near the airport, and maybe only in smaller blocks.

Regardless, giving passengers sleeping bags and telling them to fend for themselves, and not giving them the option to leave the airport, is unreasonable. Of the 500 passengers, I imagine a good number of them had a place to stay in Japan (presumably many were from the Tokyo area), yet it’s believed that only a total of six passengers were allowed to leave the airport, and that was based on pressuring the station manager.

I don’t envy the job of airline employees in the case of irregular operations, but an airline should be able to do better than this…

Tokyo Narita Airport

Bottom line

An Emirates Airbus A380 from Tokyo to Dubai was delayed by over 16 hours, after a minor maintenance issue causes the flight to miss Narita Airport’s curfew. Rather than finding hotels for passengers, the airline instead gave passengers sleeping bags, and told them to camp out in the terminal for the remainder of the night and most of the day. That’s not a great showing on Emirates’ part…

What do you make of this Emirates delay at Tokyo Narita Airport?

Conversations (57)
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  1. AD Guest

    I had the same experience nearly 20 years ago with NWA in Japan. They said 'not enough hotel rooms' so no one gets one and no one can leave. My corporate travel agent got me a room and then a small handful of us were allowed to leave the airport -- I think it was about 4. We had arrived from the US and been diverted from Narita to another city due to a typhoon...

    I had the same experience nearly 20 years ago with NWA in Japan. They said 'not enough hotel rooms' so no one gets one and no one can leave. My corporate travel agent got me a room and then a small handful of us were allowed to leave the airport -- I think it was about 4. We had arrived from the US and been diverted from Narita to another city due to a typhoon and wanted us to stay in the airport until the next afternoon. I got a Singapore Airlines flight to Singapore in the morning and my bag eventually caught up with me.

  2. Mark Buckland Guest

    Thanks for the informative article. I willbe sure not to fly Emerates to Thailand this winter.

    1. Icarus Guest

      Every airline has suffered similar issues. It’s a click bait article. The chances are also remote versus the number of flights daily. Otherwise you may as well stay at home under a duvet.

  3. SBS Guest

    Delta had a similar incident with a whole bunch of passengers bumped (voluntarily or not) off DL27 ATL-ICN on Nov 2nd. Everyone was promised hotel vouchers, then hotels refused to accept anyone with the vouchers claiming they had no rooms available, so Delta gate agents got pillows and blankets off one of the planes (it was almost 2 am by then) and left people to their own devices. I ended up staying at a different...

    Delta had a similar incident with a whole bunch of passengers bumped (voluntarily or not) off DL27 ATL-ICN on Nov 2nd. Everyone was promised hotel vouchers, then hotels refused to accept anyone with the vouchers claiming they had no rooms available, so Delta gate agents got pillows and blankets off one of the planes (it was almost 2 am by then) and left people to their own devices. I ended up staying at a different hotel, Delta finally reimbursed me a few days ago.

    Keeping passengers from a cancelled flight at the airport does make some sense, though. The reason Delta had to bump a bunch of people off the flight was that DL27 the day before was cancelled and passengers were told replacement flight would be next afternoon. They ended up flying a plane to Seoul earlier than anticipated, so only those who waited at the airport ended up going on it, with the rest competing for seats with those booked on Nov 2nd DL27.

    Unlike most countries, there is no border/passport control to get to/from the international departure areas in the US, so there is no way to actually prevent you from leaving the airport if you choose to do so. But I wouldn't do it unless I am rebooked on another scheduled flight.

  4. yepnope Guest

    I am never flying during christmas weekend ever again. While my situation wasn't as bad as this, my flight today was cancelled 20 minutes before boarding. Was told by the gate agent that none of the flight attendants showed up so no flight. I managed to book another flight to an airport close to my original destination for a reasonable rate, considering it was christmas day and last minute booking. Many others were not so...

    I am never flying during christmas weekend ever again. While my situation wasn't as bad as this, my flight today was cancelled 20 minutes before boarding. Was told by the gate agent that none of the flight attendants showed up so no flight. I managed to book another flight to an airport close to my original destination for a reasonable rate, considering it was christmas day and last minute booking. Many others were not so lucky. Their options were to fly tomorrow or find their own way. One couple said they were going to rent a car and drive 4 hours to a different airport and catch a flight there. Zero compensation given by the airline. Just a standard sorry wish we could help you but everything is booked, yea no crap its christmas day... never again.

    1. JP Guest

      I'd put my money on Allegiant... FLL AVL nonstop sucked me in initially and when it operates its a wonderful thing. Then if you fly them even semi regularly you experience the cancellation at departure time thing. If you have to be there you schlep down to DL or AA (bcuz they have no seats til next Tuesday) and fork over the walk up fare and any savings realized by booking Allegiant are wiped out...

      I'd put my money on Allegiant... FLL AVL nonstop sucked me in initially and when it operates its a wonderful thing. Then if you fly them even semi regularly you experience the cancellation at departure time thing. If you have to be there you schlep down to DL or AA (bcuz they have no seats til next Tuesday) and fork over the walk up fare and any savings realized by booking Allegiant are wiped out and then some. I won't even use the Allegiant Credit Card points I built up- It's just not worth it.

  5. iamhere Guest

    If I paid for business or first class I would be very annoyed. Also, just letting some Japanese people return into the country isn't good enough. They should have let anyone who is allowed with a visa on arrival or no visa needed for entering Japan and made arrangements for the others. Also, translating announcements improperly is not good too. Hopefully these people were well compensated.

  6. SadStateofOurCountry Guest

    While I have no sympathy for middle east or Asian airlines, they are no worse than US and European airlines when things go bad.

    End of the day, money is all that matters and "though luck" to passengers.

  7. RF Diamond

    Emirates definitely screwed up here. As far as Narita goes, they generally handle these things pretty well. I've gotten the sleeping bag, bottle water and package of crackers from them before. This was when the runways were closed due to blizzard conditions. All the hotels nearby were sold out so it made sense to camp out at the airport overnight.

  8. Hans Grimbergen Guest

    Set aside sleeping bags etc it gets about time that airlines train staff better for emergency situations, delays, and customer care. Smiling faces is nice but good communication and proper action is necessary. In europe this would costed emirates 600 euros compensation per passenger regardless. We now pay a lot of money to fly so customer services should be much much better. So get your act together emirates and all the others

  9. Jack Guest

    At least they gave them a sleeping bag. When I got stranded at Heathrow, Aer Lingus told us to sleep in the terminal and did NOT give us ANYTHING.

  10. Crosscourt Guest

    Amused they were able to find so many sleeping bags but not hotel rooms. I've always felt that airlines like emirates are fine when this are going ok but struggle to handle issues. Alor of Asian carriers are similar.

  11. Eduardo Chaves Velando Guest

    Whete did they find 400+ Sleeping bags at Narita? Is that something thats is kept in stock there? Never seen that before

  12. derek Guest

    Very surprised that they had so many sleeping bags.

    There should be some prepared contingencies. One possible way would be to have a website with hotel booking capabilities that one enters the airline's voucher number and code. Another possibility is a website where instructions are given, such as how much will be reimbursed for a hotel.

    Not everyone has a smartphone but it would help speed things up. One could deplane and head straight...

    Very surprised that they had so many sleeping bags.

    There should be some prepared contingencies. One possible way would be to have a website with hotel booking capabilities that one enters the airline's voucher number and code. Another possibility is a website where instructions are given, such as how much will be reimbursed for a hotel.

    Not everyone has a smartphone but it would help speed things up. One could deplane and head straight to a hotel or home then show up the next afternoon.

  13. 9volt Member

    I wonder if the sleeping bags were just rolled up and put back into their respective boxes after this incident was over. No washing or anything. Does NRT even have the capability to wash 500 sleeping bags? Do they need to be taken off site for laundering?

    1. Jesper Guest

      Considering how much airline bedding needs to be laundered every day that is probably not a big issue. This is Japan, not the US, they will be properly laundered before being stored again.

  14. Randy Diamond

    Scene looks familiar to March 11, 2011. Had just arrived at NRT, and buying bus tickets, when big quake hit. All trains, buses, roads, bridges shutdown. 5,000 people stranded at the airport all night. Military brought in sleeping bags, water, snacks for all. Multiply the 500 by 10. Large supply of sleeping bags at NRT.

  15. Tom Guest

    “duty of care” is an EU legal term for companies ensuring their employees are looked after whilst they are traveling on company business. You should not conflate this true legal regulation with what an airline should or should not do during a delay or other mishap etc. it has nothing to do with the situation at NRT and shows a lack of understanding.

    1. Icarus Guest

      No it’s not. Duty ( or right) of care is enshrined in eu 261 article 9 to all passengers. It simply means to look after people,including providing accommodation meals and transport if required. Airlines also have a duty of care to employees.

    2. Jack Guest

      Duty of care is also an American legal term in agency law.

  16. Jeff Ridder Guest

    Since the plane wasn't going anywhere without pax, would you have been more comfortable to stay on the plane?

  17. Zippy Pam Guest

    Procuring 500 sleeping bags seems more unlikely than booking rooms for the passengers.

    1. Icarus Guest

      Not really. Many airports have camp beds and sleeping bags in case of irregular operations. Schiphol has access to them. Tokyo airports had facilities whilst people had to stay during covid restrictions, so likely kept them in storage. It’s Japan after all, not the USA

  18. Nick Guest

    Assuming there was pressure on the station mgr to keep people there(unless he wants to keep hundreds of pissed off folks with him). Where and why the pressure to keep folks there?

    1. Ian Yapp Guest

      Several reasons I imagine. Tokyo is 40 miles from Narita; it's approx US$200 each way in a taxi, so saves on subsequent claims for transport. Once the airline 'releases' the passengers, it no longer knows who is where nor how to contact them if, say, the departure time we brought forward... a complete nightmare in the making.

  19. Jim Guest

    What about the crew? Did they sleep on the floor also?

    1. Icarus Guest

      Crew have to sleep in hotels and be rested if they go out if hours, otherwise it’s a safety risk.

    2. flyerco Guest

      It was reported the crew also didn't get hotels.

    3. Icarus Guest

      Emirates already has a crew hotel.

  20. Icarus Guest

    It’s not easy booking several hundred rooms, arranging transport, ensuring all those passengers are then brought back the same time ( not). It was most likely better to keep everyone together. Reading something on social media doesn’t mean you are fully aware of the circumstances.

    Meanwhile 1000s of flights cancelled on the USA due to weather where airlines ( unless EU operated) have no liability to offer accommodation. That’s even the case when it’s technical....

    It’s not easy booking several hundred rooms, arranging transport, ensuring all those passengers are then brought back the same time ( not). It was most likely better to keep everyone together. Reading something on social media doesn’t mean you are fully aware of the circumstances.

    Meanwhile 1000s of flights cancelled on the USA due to weather where airlines ( unless EU operated) have no liability to offer accommodation. That’s even the case when it’s technical. In the US you’re generally on your own, unless it’s a departure on an EU carrier.

    1. HkCaGu Guest

      Even EU 261 won't cover rare-enough events such as this current winter storm in North America.

    2. Icarus Guest

      Eu261 does cover rebooking,care and assistance. Have you actually read it?

      It is not just about compensation.

      Airlines are mandated to provide accommodation, meals and transport to/ from hotels. Otherwise you book your own and claim a refund.

    3. flyerco Guest

      Incorrect. Duty if care (hotel/etc) is always covered by EC261.

      Passengers stuck in Iceland for weeks had hotels covered, even though volcano was why airlines had to cancel.

  21. Ocean Guest

    Same thing happened to me nine years ago on a Lufthansa flight out of Frankfurt airport to Athens. A technical issue delayed the take off by about 20 minutes, finally we boarded and taxied to only go back to the gate and deplane because of the curfew as it was already 11:25 pm. Lufthansa did not provide hotel vouchers, food or water. Many of the Greek passengers started protesting and yelling and banging on the...

    Same thing happened to me nine years ago on a Lufthansa flight out of Frankfurt airport to Athens. A technical issue delayed the take off by about 20 minutes, finally we boarded and taxied to only go back to the gate and deplane because of the curfew as it was already 11:25 pm. Lufthansa did not provide hotel vouchers, food or water. Many of the Greek passengers started protesting and yelling and banging on the counters, Lufthansa agents called the police and few Greek passengers were put in handcuffs. I left the airport right a way and got a hotel room on my own. I had originally flown out of San Francisco to Athens on a United plane with a connection in Frankfurt with Lufthansa to Athens. I emailed United the next day and to my surprise I was issued an $800 certificate for the inconvenience.

  22. Evan Guest

    Narita airport is very clean and recently renewed. For me it would be fun to spend the night in the airport if I had enough food to eat…

    1. Icarus Guest

      Yes. Imagine if this was Lagos. There would have been a riot.

  23. Ed Guest

    It could well be that the surrounding hotels are overbooked as it is the peak season. Furthermore based off the comms, it seems that it is because the flight was originally re-timed close to curfew and the Japanese don’t allow for concessions for their hard curfew. Basically the station manager was totally in a shit unsolvable situation and really has my condolences.

  24. Max Guest

    No one is asking how/ why they have 500 sleeping bags on hand? Or is this just their SOP at places that have curfews?

    1. Icarus Guest

      Many airports do. I believe schiphol has access to Red Cross beds. And it was Japan, where they are usually organised, not the USA

    2. HkCaGu Guest

      Narita has them for situations such as this.

    3. Jesper Guest

      And to be prepared for people getting stuck in the airport buildings after a major earthquake.

  25. Peter Guest

    I guess another clear proof that Emirates is not what it used to be and must be avoided. Competition is offering better alternatives…

    1. Icarus Guest

      You wouldn’t fly any airline in this case. None has a 100% perfect record of handling disruptions. Airlines don’t own hotel rooms. They have contracts with some and access to a limited number. Better to keep passengers together in what is a clean, safe and efficient airport.

  26. dt Guest

    The part that I'm curious is where did they just happen to have 500 sleeping bags lying around? Is this basically the Emirates SOP then?

    1. Jesper Guest

      I'd think it is part of their earthquake preparation that they have sleeping bags, water, and rations for quite a lot of people handy at the airport.

    2. flyerco Guest

      Any mid-size airport has them (or cots&blankets). Not airline specific.

  27. michael Guest

    i agree that they should be better…. but i think the unfortunate and ugly truth here is that they don’t HAVE TO… and there’s little real downside risk to the carrier, and their local, on-site staff who were front and center

    Sure, they can pass out some miles… but in the end, absent firm regulations that require hard cash to be paid, carriers will have no economic incentive to “do better”

    to me,...

    i agree that they should be better…. but i think the unfortunate and ugly truth here is that they don’t HAVE TO… and there’s little real downside risk to the carrier, and their local, on-site staff who were front and center

    Sure, they can pass out some miles… but in the end, absent firm regulations that require hard cash to be paid, carriers will have no economic incentive to “do better”

    to me, it’s kind of like the US’ tarmac rule.. once you put in place hard cash payable fines, THEN you see things change… that’s what it is going to take…. to make it law, that a carrier must do X, Y and Z.. and filing to do those things make a cash compensation payment due to the impacted passenger and within X hours of said failure.

    Like most travel businesses, they’ll take the path of least cost and least resistance every time… so it’s time for the regulators to make said path much more costly and imposing much more resistance.

    1. Icarus Guest

      If it’s technical from the EU/U.K. they would have to pay up to eur600.

      Otherwise passengers can claim for damages under the Montreal Convention. At a minimum that may include care and assistance as per ec261.

  28. grrrp New Member

    Is there ever a story about a middle eastern carrier handing a situation like this well? When a country doesnt care about people, you cant expect them to be bothered how badly they treat a plane load of passengers.

  29. Mark Guest

    Unfortunately, that math checks out for My Fisher Price airline. It moves a lot of people around, but a class act it is not.

    I feel sorry for the passengers who just took the crap cards they were dealt.

    It would be interesting to learn who was the heavyweight in this decision, EK or NRT.

  30. Auspointer Guest

    I think you meant Dubai not Tokyo in the following paragraph?

    “The flight finally ended up departing at around 4PM, and then arrived in Tokyo after 10PM, around 16.5 hours behind schedule.”

  31. Malc Gold

    @Lucky--A typo: "and then arrived in Tokyo after 10PM" > I think you mean Dubai.

  32. Felix Guest

    Not joking, but a night in a Japanese prison may be more comfortable.

    Maybe in that case the only way out of the airport would have been a riot!

  33. Mike C Diamond

    The good news just keeps coming at Emirates.

    1. Edgar Guest

      Yes and they are celebrating it with their devaluation

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The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

grrrp New Member

Is there ever a story about a middle eastern carrier handing a situation like this well? When a country doesnt care about people, you cant expect them to be bothered how badly they treat a plane load of passengers.

3
Jesper Guest

Considering how much airline bedding needs to be laundered every day that is probably not a big issue. This is Japan, not the US, they will be properly laundered before being stored again.

2
Mark Guest

Unfortunately, that math checks out for My Fisher Price airline. It moves a lot of people around, but a class act it is not. I feel sorry for the passengers who just took the crap cards they were dealt. It would be interesting to learn who was the heavyweight in this decision, EK or NRT.

2
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