SWISS A220 Races To Avoid Zurich Curfew, Fails And Diverts

SWISS A220 Races To Avoid Zurich Curfew, Fails And Diverts

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A Zurich-bound A220 diverted to Geneva last night. Should the pilots be commended for their optimism, or were they just unrealistic?

London to Zurich flight diverts to Geneva due to curfew

This incident happened on Monday, June 10, 2024, and involves SWISS flight LX339, scheduled to operate from London (LHR) to Zurich (ZRH). The flight was operated by a two-year-old Airbus A220-300 with the registration code YL-ABJ. This was actually an airBaltic jet operating on behalf of SWISS, as SWISS wet leases some of these planes (airBaltic has significant wet lease operations, given the impact that Russian airspace closure is having on the airline).

This flight was operated by an airBaltic A220

This 470-mile flight was blocked at 1hr40min, and was scheduled to depart at 8:05PM and arrive at 10:45PM (there’s an hour time change). Unfortunately the inbound aircraft from Zurich was running a bit over an hour late, so the aircraft only ended up taking off from Heathrow Airport at 9:22PM.

You might not think much of this, except for one important detail — Zurich Airport has a strict curfew of 11:30PM. 11PM is actually the latest scheduled arrival time, and then flights can land between 11PM and 11:30PM only if they’re delayed. So this SWISS flight goes up against that limit under normal circumstances, and is only scheduled to land 15 minutes prior to the latest scheduled landing time, and 45 minutes before the latest possible landing time.

The flight departed London, and made its way to Zurich for over 40 minutes. At 11:05PM Zurich time, the jet began its descent from 31,000 feet, in a race against the clock, given that it had to land within 25 minutes. It’s clear that the pilots were hauling you-know-what. They made good time, and were over the city of Basel (under 50 miles from Zurich) before 11:20PM.

However, at that point it became clear that based on the approach pattern and runway being used, they’d miss the curfew by a few minutes. As a result, the plane made a turn to the southwest and diverted to Geneva Airport (GVA), where the crew and passengers had to spend the night.

The SWISS flight that diverted to Geneva

This morning, the same aircraft ended up operating the short 143-mile flight from Geneva to Zurich as flight number LX5039. It departed at 9:49AM and landed at 10:20AM, just under 12 hours after the scheduled arrival time.

Under EU261 rules, passengers are at least entitled to having their expenses covered, plus cash compensation. That being said, we’re talking about SWISS, so odds are that the airline will blame the incident on Boeing 737 rudders, or something.

Were the pilots just overly optimistic, or…?

I can’t help but be curious about what went on in the background here:

  • When the plane got ready to push back from Heathrow, did the pilots maybe optimistically hope that they’d make the curfew?
  • Because these were airBaltic pilots, were they maybe less familiar with how strict the Zurich curfew is, than a SWISS pilot might have been?
  • Did SWISS and/or the pilots decide that it was still better to have the plane overnight at a SWISS hub, rather than at Heathrow?

I would speculate that the pilots probably thought that they’d be able to beat the Zurich curfew, and were just optimistic. I can also see the circumstances that could have caused this:

  • The jet started its pushback at Heathrow at 9:01PM, and then it took 21 minutes until the plane took off, which is a bit longer than usual; for example, the flights on the two prior days took 16 and 19 minutes from pushback to takeoff
  • While the flight time for this route varies, over the past couple of weeks it has ranged from 1hr9min to 1hr30min, and on average it takes somewhere around 1hr15min

So if the plane managed to take off within 16 minutes and then had a flight time of 1hr9min, it would’ve landed in Zurich with minutes to spare. I imagine that once the jet pushed back, the pilots were committed to giving it a shot. Unfortunately it didn’t work out quite as planned, though…

The crew may have been a bit overly optimistic

Bottom line

What was supposed to be a quick SWISS flight from London to Zurich last night ended up being an overnight journey due to the curfew at Zurich Airport. The jet departed behind schedule due to a late inbound aircraft. Once airborne, it became clear the plane wouldn’t make it to Zurich before 11:30PM, at which point the aircraft diverted to Geneva. Passengers ended up arriving in Zurich around 12 hours behind schedule.

What do you make of this SWISS curfew diversion?

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  1. Baz Guest

    The last train from Geneva to Zürich is at 21:10. So clearly an overnight in Geneva would be necessary. It seems strange that they didn't choose Basel, where they could have landed in time for passengers to get the last train to Zürich, which would have been a minor inconvenience for passengers and saved the airline a lot of money in compensation.

  2. Pierre Guest

    That's definitely not a pilot decision...

    It's indeed the other way around, pilots raise concerns and company OCC decide if they have to go or not and where they have to divert...

    Pilots are responsible for safety not for scheduling the operation and its consequences...

    An airline is much more than 2 pilots in the front... There are several levels of management...

  3. Jim Guest

    I don't think pilots and airline professionals tell you how to do your job. Not sure why you think you're qualified to do the same.

  4. Patrick Guest

    Hi Ben. 1. UK 261 applies to flights departing or arriving from or to the UK, (essentially identical to EU 261 compensation). 2. How do you find the pushback time for a flight. if not onboard? Flight radar gives the wheels up time. Thanks. Patrick

  5. N1120A Guest

    Hard curfews are ridiculous, especially for arrivals.

  6. MarkN Guest

    And the environmental impact from this…

  7. Andy 11235 Guest

    Love how they blame the weather : "Sauf que le décollage a été retardé de plus d'une heure, en raison de «la situation météorologique instable dans toute l'Europe»." (https://www.20min.ch/fr/story/vol-londres-zurich-avion-detourne-a-geneve-swiss-laisse-les-passagers-sur-le-carreau-103125016)

    Question for Ben -- what exactly is the right process for trying to use credit card benefits in this situation? Swiss /should/ pay, but they may take many months and probably won't reimburse the entire cost. However, credit card travel insurance is both secondary (pays after...

    Love how they blame the weather : "Sauf que le décollage a été retardé de plus d'une heure, en raison de «la situation météorologique instable dans toute l'Europe»." (https://www.20min.ch/fr/story/vol-londres-zurich-avion-detourne-a-geneve-swiss-laisse-les-passagers-sur-le-carreau-103125016)

    Question for Ben -- what exactly is the right process for trying to use credit card benefits in this situation? Swiss /should/ pay, but they may take many months and probably won't reimburse the entire cost. However, credit card travel insurance is both secondary (pays after the airline) and requires filing a lot sooner than you are likely to get any money from Swiss.

  8. MJ Guest

    You forgot to mention that due to hotel shortages the passengers were told that they needed to find their own accommodation for the night!

  9. Eskimo Guest

    The whole world needs to rethink about these curfews.

    A220 is one of the quietest jets in the market.

    Those DC-8 Concorde or 727 are long gone.

  10. Andy Diamond

    It triggered quite a discussion here in Switzerland. The informal consensus is that Swiss needs to schedule its arrivals with more margin. Swiss obviously disagrees.

  11. Ben Guest

    Hi, EU claims do not apply for Swiss if flights depart and arrive outside of the EU. London and Zurich/ Geneva not being part of the European Union, though. The Swiss government did not accept flight rights of the EU regulation 261. Not representing Swiss here but it‘s just the law that is different for Switzerland.

    1. Samo Guest

      Not true. The Regulation 261/2004 does apply to Switzerland (which is part of EFTA) and Swiss doesn't dispute that either. What they do dispute is the applicability of the case law by EU courts (i.e. ruling that technical malfunctions are within carrier's responsibility).

      Furthermore, UK's version of the regulation applies here since the departure was from London. This is independent of the EU regulation, although largely the same text.

  12. Ralph Guest

    A local newspaper Worte about this. SWISS didn't even arrange Hotel rooms for the passengers. People were dumped from the airplane and left with nothing.
    Worst Airline in the world.

    1. Samo Guest

      Surely adult people are capable of booking a hotel and then claim the cost?

    2. James Guest

      It's pretty shoddy service from Swiss if this is the case. Also, in Europe it's the norm for airlines to book hotels for stranded passengers. And also some of the "adult people" you refer too may not have the means or a credit card to book a last minute hotel in a very expensive city at close to midnight.

  13. fergus Guest

    Swiss are crazy for scheduling a flight from Heathrow so late. Delays at Heathrow are almost guaranteed, especially in winter. I doubt in my entire flying life have I had an on time departure from Heathrow. BA have a Heathrow to Zurich evening flight I have used a few times, it has been late each time and we have only just scraped in. This means they hold the last inter-terminal train from the E Dock...

    Swiss are crazy for scheduling a flight from Heathrow so late. Delays at Heathrow are almost guaranteed, especially in winter. I doubt in my entire flying life have I had an on time departure from Heathrow. BA have a Heathrow to Zurich evening flight I have used a few times, it has been late each time and we have only just scraped in. This means they hold the last inter-terminal train from the E Dock to the main terminal until every passenger is on it. It can be a long wait for dawdling passengers.

    Last time BA was late, by the time we had got past the one person processing passports, it meant an expensive taxi from the airport to town, because the last trains had gone. The Zurich curfew really is a bit too tight I think, and the airlines push it to the limit. Not great for the pax.

  14. CHRIS Guest

    DEFINITELY more environmentally responsible to have the airplane fly an extra segment the next day.....while burning fuel doing it.

    1. UncleRonnie Gold

      Why blame the Swiss? This falls squarely on the airline who took off late from LHR. If you don’t punish Baltic, they’ll not care and take off late on this route 4 times a week without consequence.

    2. Paper Boarding Pass Guest

      Could be AirBaltic was following Swiss dispatch rules and guidance.
      Literally , AirBaltic is just providing the airframe, crew, & insurance (wet leasing). Swiss dictates departure, routing, dispatch, fuel load, seat assignments, etc.

      Therefore, Swiss assumes the risk!!

  15. Ex Crossair Guest

    Why didn’t they divert to Basel? Landing legal till midnight, 50 mins busride to ZRH

    1. Samo Guest

      LX doesn't have a station there, so GVA was more convenient for them.

  16. Samo Guest

    Even if they knew they won't make it to ZRH, it would still be better to depart and divert to GVA than having plane, crew and passengers stuck at LHR. So why not give it a try and at worst divert anyway?

    1. Watson Diamond

      Yeah I agree. Pax have already cleared immigration at LHR so canceling the flight means re-clearing in both directions (which could have visa issues for some people). Plus, once morning rolls around there are trains running from GVA to ZRH on the half hour, so you aren't totally reliant on the second flight.

    2. secretflyer New Member

      There is no immigration to clear when departing LHR. Exit checks are done electronically using the passport details you enter when checking in.

  17. FL360 Guest

    Heathrow taxi times are typically at least 20 minutes, and often closer to 30. So expecting to make it in 15 minutes or less is totally unrealistic.

    The flight should have diverted to BSL, which is just 50 miles from ZRH. That would have allowed some/most of the pax to get to their destination the same day, even by public transport. Even STR would have been closer!

    Unfortunately operational convenience trumped passenger convenience, as LX...

    Heathrow taxi times are typically at least 20 minutes, and often closer to 30. So expecting to make it in 15 minutes or less is totally unrealistic.

    The flight should have diverted to BSL, which is just 50 miles from ZRH. That would have allowed some/most of the pax to get to their destination the same day, even by public transport. Even STR would have been closer!

    Unfortunately operational convenience trumped passenger convenience, as LX no longer operate at BSL. So they just went to GVA because it's their other hub.

    Whilst there's every chance that the departure delay was weather or ATC-related (i.e. exceptional circumstances which would mean no compensation is due), the airline also has to apply "all reasonable measures" to minimise delays, otherwise they're back on the hook for compensation (see LE v TAP).

    LX would probably claim that "all reasonable measures" doesn't require them to divert to an airport they don't normally run to, and will deny compensation accordingly, but I'd disagree. Unfortunately you'd probably have to take it to alternative dispute resolution (SÖP) or court to get anywhere.

  18. Michael Guest

    I've had ZRH curfew diversions twice already both times in the last KLM from AMS to ZRH. The most annoying part is sitting an hour in thr plane after return to Amsterdam until somebody shows to operate the jet bridge at 0130am. KLM refused compensation each time despite obvious technical reasons like no compressor availability for engine start up. Then blaming weather. All airlines lie. Please make them stop that.

  19. Vinay Guest

    Idiotic to have a strict "curfew" at any international airport. I'm sure this is the result of socialist/green policies unchecked in Zurich. You guys literally forced the airline to pollute more and forced regular folks to spend more time and money in their overnight sojourn. Bravo!

    1. Antonio Guest

      Sure Switzerland is the mecca of socialism ;))). I went to Credit Suisse asking for my CHF part and i got them...

    2. Throwawayname Guest

      Curfews have nothing to do with emissions, they are related to noise pollution. Anyone who thinks they're 'idiotic' is welcome to move right next to a runway of a major airport in India or the UAE and come back in a year's time to tell us how much they enjoyed it.

    3. mauipeter Guest

      Oh please don't bring in your pathetic anti liberal politics. Curfews got nothing to do with them. I grew up close to the old Munich Riem city airport 60 years ago, right below the flight path, and we were happy at 11 pm every night, when the windows stopped shaking every three minutes with every take off and landing. Back then 'green' was an unknown.

    4. Pete Guest

      You can hardly compare the noise of an A220 arriving with that of a Caravelle departing.

    5. Donato Guest

      Actually, I believe the curfew is likely a mandate based on noise affecting those under the path. What is harder to accept is the limited approaches used in early morning landings which, I believe negatively impacts safety. Those plans were a result of German concerns of noise affecting their citizens.

    6. Jake Guest

      Switzerland is indeed quite socialist, and while it is not entirely unreasonable that an international airport would have a curfew, having to divert an already delayed airplane be cause of it is nonsense.

    7. Pudu Guest

      Some people just can’t help but try to inject politics into every discussion and they are insufferable regardless of their ideology.

    8. Christian Rogner Guest

      I grew up in Zurich and the airport was built decades before most housing construction that’s in the flight path.
      Sorta like people moving to the country and then complaining about roosters… hahaha

      It’s the Germans by the way yet they happily fly out of that convenient airport.

      No surprise there!!

    9. Marco Guest

      The curfew is due to the airport being just in the middle of Kloten. I live there and the sound of the airplanes is loud. So the curfew can’t be removed.

  20. Tim Dunn Diamond

    The call to try to make it was made by more than just the pilots.
    And it is also possible that the wet lease arrangement only pays Baltic if the flight operates, not if it was cancelled esp. for some reason earlier.

    There was an incentive to try to make it in but Baltic probably got paid for operating the diversion which they might not have been paid if the flight had cancelled.

  21. UncleRonnie Gold

    I fly this route several times a year and didn’t know about the strict curfew times. This is a very useful story for me. Thanks Ben.

  22. derek Guest

    This is an example of how the rules are harmful. The harm of the plane landing 15 minutes after the cutoff time is small but the harm to the passengers of having to fly to Geneva is great.

    The environmental costs are also not zero. There was a needless flight from GVA to ZRH.

    This is an example of bureaucrats harming people.

    1. Jacques Guest

      This. "Epikeia", as it was known to the ancient Greeks.

    2. Watson Diamond

      In any isolated incident, you're absolutely right. But given that this was just a routine flight delay and not an emergency, they don't want a precedent set that they're willing to let things slide. You'd routinely get flights scheduled to land at 22:59 which — oopsy daisy — are just gonna be 45 minutes late or so.

    3. Lars Guest

      Having lived in Zürich for 12 years and being a Swiss citizen, I can say that these rules are not made by bureaucracy, but the sovereign (i.e., the citizens):

      With the expansion of ZRH starting in the 70s, many homeowners in villages around the airport saw themselves confronted with increasing noise levels. In addition, there is be a flight path coming from the north that would result in less noise in populated areas, but this...

      Having lived in Zürich for 12 years and being a Swiss citizen, I can say that these rules are not made by bureaucracy, but the sovereign (i.e., the citizens):

      With the expansion of ZRH starting in the 70s, many homeowners in villages around the airport saw themselves confronted with increasing noise levels. In addition, there is be a flight path coming from the north that would result in less noise in populated areas, but this requires flying a bit lower over German airspace, and the bilateral treaty with Germany regulates both time windows and overall number of flights over German territory.

      In order to address 'their' noise issue, these curfews are the result of political action taken, and the resulting laws were all subject to ballots, being passed by a majority of citizens in the Canton of Zurich. (Equally, all airport expansions, changes, etc, create a big public debate and usually also result in a ballot.)

      One can dispute whether it is a good or a bad regulation - but it is at least not result of bureaucrats, but mostly of direct democracy (with a pinch of bilateral relationships).

    4. mauipeter Guest

      How about the harm to the folks in the approach path who finally get the chance for some decent shut eye at a certain time of night? But no, we don't think of people anymore these days. All that counts is money and whatever chance you get to squeeze in your anti whatever poorly disguised political opinion.

    5. Donato Guest

      The airport is not new, those living there likely knew they were moving to an area with flights nearby. It would be different if the airport and runways were totally new.

  23. Likes-to-fly Member

    Before you praise Swiss for abiding by the rules, read some local news about how the passengers were left stranded at midnight in Geneva...

  24. George Romey Guest

    A lot can add a bit of time or take a bit of time away on the flight time. How many times you're told that it's going to be 2 hours flight time and it ends up being 2:15 or 1:45? Sometimes pilots can get short cuts. Sometimes they're told to slow their speed. Sometime they're given a different flight path. Sometimes the winds change inflight and the a/c has to fly past the airport...

    A lot can add a bit of time or take a bit of time away on the flight time. How many times you're told that it's going to be 2 hours flight time and it ends up being 2:15 or 1:45? Sometimes pilots can get short cuts. Sometimes they're told to slow their speed. Sometime they're given a different flight path. Sometimes the winds change inflight and the a/c has to fly past the airport and come around, etc. The pilots took a calculated risk they could make it by the curfew and stuff happened.

  25. Nelson Diamond

    That's what make me like Switzerland; respect and follow up rules! Nobody is above the law! Albeit some think they are.

  26. Nb Guest

    Why didn’t they land in Basle?

    1. Watson Diamond

      Maybe similar curfew issues?

      Another possibility: BSL/MLH is in France, so it's possible they didn't want to deal with landing in a different country. Even with Schengen, some third-country visas require entry in a particular country. Or immigration officers had gone home for the night. It's not a busy airport.

    2. Donato Guest

      I believe you can exit BSL to Switzerland. I have been rerouted there after being refused passage on a SR flight to ZRH because I was being transported by wheelchair with the ability to walk as needed. BSL did not have or turned off their lifts at night. I took a taxi to the SBB station and arrived very late to my hotel in ZRH.
      I hope everybody involved in that fiasco lost something when SR collapsed, lol.

    3. secretflyer New Member

      BSL is open until midnight and is treated as being in both countries for customs/immigration purposes - you can exit to the French sector or the Swiss sector after passport control.

  27. Daniel Guest

    Knowing the Swiss, I’m surprised they didn’t just say, “close enough” and let them land after curfew

    1. RichM Diamond

      Do you really know the Swiss? Following rules (even petty ones) exactly and precisely is what they live for!

    2. Pete Guest

      As the old joke goes...

      'Heaven is where the police are English, the chef's are French, the auto mechanics are German, the Italians are the lovers, and it's all organised by the Swiss.

      Hell is where the police are Germans, the chefs are English, the French are the auto mechanics, the lovers are Swiss, and it's all organised by the Italians."

  28. Mike Guest

    I can almost guarantee it was management/ops/dispatch pushing them to "atleast give it a try". Shit happens all the time in the airline world where Dispatch says "company atleast wants you to give it a look."

  29. Lucy Jones Guest

    Somebody knows what the curfew times are at GVA? I always thought they were the same as ZRH.

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Lucy Jones -- Geneva's curfew only kicks in at 12:30AM, so it's an hour later. :-)

    2. Mauro Guest

      Curfew in GVA is 10pm for non scheduled flights and 12am for scheduled passengers flights with some exceptions until 12:30am given on exceptional basis by the airport authorities.

  30. Dan Guest

    Click bait to a new level! How many flights divert everyday? The airline obviously didn’t want the aircraft and crew stranded in a foreign country. They dispatched it, it didn’t make it, it diverted to another airport in the airlines country of origin (less than a 3 hour drive from the intended destination) and life goes on. How on earth have you created an article out of this? You’re no better than AI with these sort of blogs.

    1. Lucy Jones Guest

      Some people are angry !
      You can dislike an article but not write horrible things !

    2. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Dan -- Hey, so I totally understand if you don't find this story interesting, as we're all interesting in reading about different things. However, that doesn't make it clickbait, as that's not what that word means.

      I'm an aviation geek, and I write about stories that interest me, and this was one of those.

    3. Jack Guest

      Amen. The textbook definition of clickbait is View from the Wing.

    4. TravelinWilly Diamond

      "Click bait to a new level!"

      Yet here you are, clicking and commenting, like an irony-free moron.

      This is blog, not a news site, and Ben publishes what he finds interesting. If you don't like it, VFTW is always looking for new commenters (trolls, actually) on sex and other lowest-common-denominator pieces.

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TravelinWilly Diamond

"Click bait to a new level!" Yet here you are, clicking and commenting, like an irony-free moron. This is blog, not a news site, and Ben publishes what he finds interesting. If you don't like it, VFTW is always looking for new commenters (trolls, actually) on sex and other lowest-common-denominator pieces.

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Ben Schlappig OMAAT

@ Dan -- Hey, so I totally understand if you don't find this story interesting, as we're all interesting in reading about different things. However, that doesn't make it clickbait, as that's not what that word means. I'm an aviation geek, and I write about stories that interest me, and this was one of those.

4
fergus Guest

Swiss are crazy for scheduling a flight from Heathrow so late. Delays at Heathrow are almost guaranteed, especially in winter. I doubt in my entire flying life have I had an on time departure from Heathrow. BA have a Heathrow to Zurich evening flight I have used a few times, it has been late each time and we have only just scraped in. This means they hold the last inter-terminal train from the E Dock to the main terminal until every passenger is on it. It can be a long wait for dawdling passengers. Last time BA was late, by the time we had got past the one person processing passports, it meant an expensive taxi from the airport to town, because the last trains had gone. The Zurich curfew really is a bit too tight I think, and the airlines push it to the limit. Not great for the pax.

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