Germany’s Bild has an interesting story about a recent LOT Polish Airlines flight that had to return to Warsaw, after diverting to Hannover, which reader Klaus forwarded to me. The story describes this as a “chaos flight,” where “passengers flew back because the airline was too stingy.” Is that a fair criticism? Let’s take a look.
In this post:
Dusseldorf-bound LOT flight diverts to Hannover, then Warsaw
This incident happened on Monday, September 18, 2023, and involves LOT Polish Airlines flight LO407, which was scheduled to operate from Warsaw (WAW) to Dusseldorf (DUS). The planned 612-mile flight was operated by a 13-year-old Embraer E175 with the registration code SP-LIL, and had 75 passengers onboard.
The flight was scheduled to depart at 5PM and arrive at 7PM. It was delayed a bit on departure, and ended up taking off from Warsaw at 6:21PM. By around 7:40PM, the aircraft was near Dusseldorf, but unfortunately weather conditions had deteriorated. The aircraft circled for around 25 minutes. When conditions didn’t improve, the decision was made to divert to Hannover, about 150 miles from Dusseldorf. The aircraft landed there safely at around 8:25PM.
This is where matters get complicated. Once the plane was on the ground, passengers weren’t allowed to deplane, but rather the police showed up just to manage the situation and make sure no passengers got off the aircraft.
The captain was presumably in communication with operations folks at the airline, and made the decision to refuel the aircraft and keep passengers onboard. The initial hope was that conditions would improve in Dusseldorf, so the airline could still operate there. However, when conditions didn’t improve, the decision was made to return to Warsaw, due to a lack of other options.
This outraged many passengers, who argued that they should be able to get off the plane in Hannover. In the end, the airline agreed to let those with just carry-on bags off the aircraft, which was a total of 10 people, and they could make their way on their own to their final destination.
In the end, the aircraft took off again from Hannover at 10:58PM, and landed in Warsaw at 12:06AM. So passengers were back where they started, over six hours after their scheduled departure time.
Here’s how a spokesperson for the police describes the situation:
“We were only there to secure the runway. The airline and the airport are responsible for the matter.”
Here’s how a spokesperson for the airport describes the situation:
“It was the pilot’s decision that the plane would not be unloaded in Hanover and should continue flying. LOT is currently not a partner of the handling agents at Hanover Airport.”
Here’s how a spokesperson for the airline describes the situation:
“Despite several hours of negotiations with the airport, there were not enough staff and equipment (e.g. passenger boarding bridges, buses) available that day to serve the passengers of LO 407. The crew may not allow passengers to disembark if the journey to the terminal is not properly secured. “In addition, we have been informed that there are no hotel spaces and no possibility to provide our passengers with adequate care – transport, accommodation, meals.”
Was LOT Polish Airlines being cheap?
One passenger who was able to deplane states that he “called a pilot [he] knew and asked for advice” about how the passengers could fight for their “freedom.” He claims that “the point was that LOT didn’t want to pay for people to get out.” He further states:
“I will never fly with LOT again because I don’t want to run the risk of being held against my will on the plane. I am also disappointed in the federal police because they did not help all passengers immediately.”
He ended up arriving at his destination around 3AM, after reportedly spending €400 on a rental car. He now plans to file a complaint against… the pilot?
Let me acknowledge that this was an unpleasant ordeal for all passengers involved. The 10 people who were able to deplane had quite the journey to get to their destination, while other passengers took a six hour trip to nowhere.
While this no doubt sucked, my read on the situation isn’t that this was a “chaos flight,” or that the airline was being stingy. Rather this highlights the complexities of airline operations, from unpredictable weather, to airport curfews:
- When the plane diverted to Hannover, presumably the plan was initially to refuel and to still fly to Dusseldorf before the curfew, though unfortunately conditions didn’t improve in time
- LOT Polish Airlines doesn’t ordinarily fly to Hannover, and airline logistics are incredibly complicated; we’re not just talking about finding a way to have passengers deplane at the airport, but there also needs to be a plan for getting people to their final destination or getting them hotel accommodations, given the duty of care European airlines have
- We don’t know with certainty how hard LOT tried, but finding 80(ish) hotel rooms and/or getting multiple buses for that many people this late at night to a destination 150 miles away isn’t exactly easy
- While it of course sucks to have to return to your origin, sometimes that’s the best way that an airline can keep its obligations regarding passenger care, since the airline can easily block rooms, provide customer service, arrange alternative flights, etc.
Was LOT a bit disorganized in this instance? It’s possible. But I don’t think the airline was acting “stingy,” because operating an extra flight just to take passengers back to their origin isn’t exactly a cheap undertaking.
LOT Polish Airlines had a complicated diversion for a recent Warsaw to Dusseldorf flight. The Embraer E175 wasn’t able to land in Dusseldorf due to bad weather. The plane then diverted to Hannover. Unfortunately conditions at Dusseldorf Airport didn’t improve, so the plane ended up returning to Warsaw, where it landed six hours after its scheduled departure.
While obviously a frustrating situation for passengers, I also don’t think the airline can reasonably be accused of being stingy. Rather, I think this is one of those situations that highlights the complexity of the airline industry.
What do you make of this LOT Polish Airlines diversion?