United 767 Diverts Over Stuck Laptop, Leads To 27-Hour Delay

United 767 Diverts Over Stuck Laptop, Leads To 27-Hour Delay

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If this doesn’t highlight the operational complexity of the airline industry, then I don’t know what does (thanks to PYOK for flagging this).

United 767 diverts to Shannon over laptop issue

This incident happened on Sunday, May 19, 2024, and involves United Airlines flight UA12 from Zurich, Switzerland (ZRH), to Chicago (ORD). The flight was operated by a 30-year-old Boeing 767-300ER with the registration code N663UA. The aircraft had 167 people onboard, including 10 crew members and 157 passengers.

The jet departed Zurich as scheduled, shortly after 10AM local time. The aircraft climbed up to 34,000 feet, and for around three hours, made its way west across Europe and then the Atlantic, as planned.

Unfortunately an issue arose at this point. The laptop of one of the business class passengers became stuck in the seat (or along the side of the seat), and the crew was unable to safely retrieve it.

Airlines frequently make announcements that if phones or other electronics get stuck in a seat, you should immediately contact a flight attendant, and not try to adjust the seat yourself. This is because moving a seat could damage a lithium ion battery, which could lead to a thermal runaway event, including the potential for a fire.

With the crew unable to safely retrieve the laptop, and being at the start of a transatlantic journey with few immediate diversion points in the event of an emergency, the crew made the decision to divert to Shannon, Ireland (SNN). This required backtracking well over 500 miles.

The aircraft ended up arriving in Shannon at 1:51PM local time, just over 4.5 hours after the aircraft left Zurich.

A United 767 diverted to Shannon
Flight status for the Zurich to Shannon flight

A ground worker was able to help remove the laptop from the seat, quickly resolving that issue. While it’s possible the crew could have done this as well, it’s definitely riskier to do at altitude than on the ground, when everyone could evacuate, if needed.

This incident then caused a 27-hour delay

While the diversion was quite an inconvenience in the first place, that wasn’t the end of the issues. Airline crews have maximum duty hours that they can work. In this case, the diversion caused the crew to be over their maximum hours, meaning that the flight couldn’t continue to Chicago.

As a result, the crew and passengers were put in hotels for the night, and the flight was rescheduled for today (Monday, May 20, 2024). Specifically, United flight UA3030 will operate from Shannon to Chicago, and is scheduled to depart at 1:30PM, around 24 hours after the jet landed in Ireland.

The aircraft is scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 3:33PM, just under 27 hours after the initially scheduled 12:45PM arrival.

Flight status for the Shannon to Chicago flight

Bottom line

A United Boeing 767 operating a transatlantic flight diverted to Ireland, after a laptop became stuck in a business class seat. While the laptop was safely retrieved, the crew then timed out, meaning that passengers spent around 24 hours on the ground in Shannon, before continuing back to Chicago later today.

This really highlights the complexity of the airline industry. In this situation, a simple mistake caused a diversion that easily cost the airline tens of thousands of dollars (if not $100K+).

Safety is always paramount in the airline industry. Some might argue that diverting over a stuck laptop borders on an overkill. Ultimately 167 people were delayed by 27 hours, and this cost a lot of money. What was the actual risk of the laptop catching fire? Probably very, very low. But if you ask me, the airline industry should be commended for having an unwavering commitment to prioritizing safety.

What do you make of this United diversion?

Conversations (41)
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  1. JR Jansen Guest

    “The flight was operated by a 30-year-old Boeing 767-300ER with the registration code N663UA.”

    FYI, people or airlines operate flights; this is a human activity. Inanimate objects (i.e. aircraft) do not operate flights.

  2. M Bass Guest

    Our home was nearly destroyed by a lithium ion battery spontaneously combusting, even though it was not turned on or plugged in. The captain made the right decision to put the lives of his passengers/crew ahead of convenience.

    1. Jimi Guest

      Well a free hotel. Meal vouchers and a day in Ireland. Not to shabby. I certainly wouldn't complain. I recommend Durty Nellys for a pint and some grub.

  3. Marsha Guest

    Must better to be safe. I always fly United .

  4. foxecho1011 New Member

    Tough call by the Crew...but Kudos to them

  5. Rg Guest

    Crews are not authorized to take apart airline seats in the air or on the ground.
    Rummaging under an electronic seat is a bad idea as there are intricate wires under the seat that could cause harm to anyone trying to do so.
    Phones are the #1 lost item under seats, ear buds #2. No matter how many announcements are made to secure belongings, someone of every flight loses something under those seats!

  6. Cece Guest

    It sounds ridiculous until you see a laptop fire on an airplane and experience how fast that toxic acrid smoke fills a metal tube. I had this happen on a flight I was working. The fire started right after takeoff and we flew a quick visual pattern and landed back on the runway. The amount of smoke was crazy and the flight attendant dragged this laptop bag from two rows from the back to the...

    It sounds ridiculous until you see a laptop fire on an airplane and experience how fast that toxic acrid smoke fills a metal tube. I had this happen on a flight I was working. The fire started right after takeoff and we flew a quick visual pattern and landed back on the runway. The amount of smoke was crazy and the flight attendant dragged this laptop bag from two rows from the back to the lavatory to fight the fire there and there was a tail of melted carpet and it melted and badly damaged the floor of the lavatory. All this took place over the span of like 6 minutes.

    Then couple that with the fact that a laptop that is stuck in a seat can't be put into a thermal containment bag or easily have water put on it to cool a thermal runaway, and once out over the North Atlantic you could be hours away from a diversion airport. With an uncontained fire on a plane, crews have just minutes to get the plane on the ground.

  7. Lyle Lewis Guest

    Well done crew. As a veteran of many oceanic crossings and witness to the aftermath of a cellphone fire that started after it was badly damaged up in a seat on the ground in Asia. The uncertainty of an ocean crossing ahead of you is not a great situation to be faced with. Better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air,than being in the air wishing you were on the ground.

  8. iamhere Guest

    Why did they depart at 1:30 the next afternoon. Would it have made more sense to have a morning departure since the passengers had nothing else to do and get to the destination quicker.

    1. Cece Guest

      Because it's next to impossible for the crew to get a full sleep cycle for for a long haul flight in only 12 hours.

      It's like if you show up at 9am for your work day, and something goes wrong 3 hours into your shift and your company tells you to go home for 12 hours, so you can show up at midnight to start your shift over again. Are you going to get another full nights rest, so you can show up at midnight and work until 10am or noon the next day.

  9. Azamaraal Guest

    @uncleronnie

    Back in the day pubs were closed on Sunday
    Hopefully not in 2024

  10. mauipeter Guest

    Yikes, a 30 year old plane. 8-( When I moved to Hawaii, and needed a new airline some time around 1995, I chose UA with an average fleet age of 3.5 years over Northworst, which was around 13 years.

  11. Mark J. Guest

    Looks like Shannon was the most cost-effective diversion for the company, quite the pain but safety first! And be careful with your electronics on board

  12. Alec Member

    Why not divert to LHR where could likely get some passengers back same day? I guess could be a visa issue if some passengers didn’t haven’t entry rights

    1. N1120A Guest

      Proximity, more than anything. Also, you don't need to enter the UK to connect at LHR.

  13. S_LEE Gold

    It's a bit off topic and no one here cares about what's going on in Korea, but United had another diversion on the same day.
    UA806 bound for SFO diverted back to ICN because all the pilots and some flight attendants got food poisoning. It wasn't long after takeoff, so it seems what they ate before the flight caused it. It's on Korean news but not on any international media.
    You can use...

    It's a bit off topic and no one here cares about what's going on in Korea, but United had another diversion on the same day.
    UA806 bound for SFO diverted back to ICN because all the pilots and some flight attendants got food poisoning. It wasn't long after takeoff, so it seems what they ate before the flight caused it. It's on Korean news but not on any international media.
    You can use translator to read this..
    https://www.msn.com/ko-kr/money/topstories/%EB%84%88%EB%AC%B4-%EC%95%84%ED%8C%8C%EC%84%9C-%EC%A3%84%EC%86%A1%ED%95%A9%EB%8B%88%EB%8B%A4-%EA%B8%B0%EC%9E%A5-%EC%8A%B9%EB%AC%B4%EC%9B%90-%EB%8B%A8%EC%B2%B4-%EC%8B%9D%EC%A4%91%EB%8F%85%EC%97%90-%EB%B9%84%ED%96%89%EA%B8%B0-%ED%9A%8C%ED%95%AD/ar-BB1mHIug

    1. glenn t Guest

      Should be easy to trace where, when and what was eaten, given who became ill.
      Just what you would do with this information I do not know, other than an on-going treatment plan if needed.

    2. LarryB Guest

      Sounds like a remake of "Airplane!"

  14. Nick Guest

    Lithium Fire Guard should be on all aircrafts. If they had this product they would have felt better about continuing. It is the only UL5800 certified box and it works! Unlike the bags that FAA said the PED needs to be completely cooled and extinguished. Check it out. Lithiumfireguard.com Thanks for reporting on this!

    1. Cece Guest

      But the laptop was stuck/wedged in a seat. No way to get it in a box.

  15. Matt Guest

    So you're saying that this was the passenger's mistake that cost UA all this money? Things fall all the time. It would seem that this accidental drop is UA's problem for having a seat that allowed it to be irretrievable.

    1. Obviously Guest

      Yea, totally passengers fault. Maybe they needed to place their laptop in more appropriate place? Table, bag, I dunno suitcase? Instead of between seats‍♀️

  16. Jack Guest

    If only passengers could keep track of their electronic devices. I can't count the number of times that I've been awakened on long haul flights by a gaggle of flight attendants in the aisle, crawling on the floor, tearing up a neighboring seat working to retrieve another passenger's misplaced device. Is it really that difficult to keep track of your ****?

    1. N1120A Guest

      Accidents happen. These are actually relatively rare events

  17. Lars Guest

    157 pax seems a pretty light load for a 763. There had to be plenty of empty seats.

    Seems to me the smarter course of action would have been for the passenger who dropped his laptop to switch seats, while leaving the original seat alone and marking it off with caution tape or something so no one else moves that seat (potentially causing the feared breakage of the laptop). The only danger of breakage comes...

    157 pax seems a pretty light load for a 763. There had to be plenty of empty seats.

    Seems to me the smarter course of action would have been for the passenger who dropped his laptop to switch seats, while leaving the original seat alone and marking it off with caution tape or something so no one else moves that seat (potentially causing the feared breakage of the laptop). The only danger of breakage comes from the moving of the seat, right?

    If no other biz seat available, send him to coach and refund his ticket and/or give miles. Lots cheaper than a diversion.

    1. Mitch Guest

      Reports on Reddit from passengers on board said that the laptop slid below the floor of the cabin and was in the cargo hold. The danger of a lithium battery on fire in the cargo hold where it wouldn’t be able to be contained is a lot higher.

    2. Leigh Guest

      No way anything could slip into the cargo hold from the passenger deck. That’s nonsense.

    3. Evan Guest

      I heard from a United aircraft mechanic that the decompression blowout panels at the base of the floor on the 767 (designed to prevent the floor itself from being damaged in an explosive decompression) can and do get knocked loose by careless passengers. And once that panel is open, it leads straight down into the cargo hold. It’s the little black panels at the base of the sidewall with vents on them. So apparently yes,...

      I heard from a United aircraft mechanic that the decompression blowout panels at the base of the floor on the 767 (designed to prevent the floor itself from being damaged in an explosive decompression) can and do get knocked loose by careless passengers. And once that panel is open, it leads straight down into the cargo hold. It’s the little black panels at the base of the sidewall with vents on them. So apparently yes, it is possible. Crappy situation, yes, but a Lithium battery fire in the belly over the Atlantic 2 hours from land is a worse situation. Reminds me of the Swissair 111 crash.

    4. High-J 763 Guest

      This 763 only has a actual capacity of 167. And account for the 5 seats blocked for crew rest, the aircraft only has 162 seats available for customers. This is by no means a "pretty light load".

    5. Lars Guest

      Thanks, man. Didn't figure it would be that premium-heavy, but should have guessed given its point of origination. But even with that updated math there were 5 empty seats available for passenger use.

      If the computer was able to fall down into the cargo hold, then I guess there was no real choice to be made if regs don't allow lithium ion batteries down there.

  18. Maryland Guest

    Low risk? Probably. But the correct choice was made to divert.

  19. UncleRonnie Gold

    Sunday at the pub in Ireland. Could be worse.....

  20. Steve Guest

    Just curious. Does the crew get paid for the downtime? I thought crew was only paid when the doors are closed.

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Steve -- The crew make most of their money from flying hours. They do get a per diem when they're away from home, but that's not a huge amount. In this case, it's also possible that by arriving to Chicago a day later, some crews may be "kicked off" their next trip due to lack of minimum rest, and could still be paid. However, I imagine that's the exception rather than the norm, especially for long haul crews.

  21. Mick Guest

    I think every day decisions are made weighing up safety v efficiency. Otherwise we should just set the speed limit to 20mph and reduce road deaths.

    If they genuinely thought this was a risk then land the plane. But seems like a pretty heavy financial and emotional cost to waste 27 hours. I have no idea what the chances of a fire are though.

    Max hours are contractual and not based on safety? I didn’t know that.

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Mick -- The contracts stipulate maximum hours, but presumably those numbers are developed based on what's considered "safe." It's my understanding that the maximums differ slightly by carrier, as there are obviously a lot of factors to consider.

    2. Nolan Guest

      Maximum duty hours for flight crew are regulatory, not contractual. FAR Part 117.

    3. Cece Guest

      It's mostly FAA duty and flight time limits. These long haul flights don't have a lot extra time to play with because it's already a long duty day for the crew. And a lot of times diversions like this are at least a 3 or 4 hour ordeal.

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Cece Guest

It sounds ridiculous until you see a laptop fire on an airplane and experience how fast that toxic acrid smoke fills a metal tube. I had this happen on a flight I was working. The fire started right after takeoff and we flew a quick visual pattern and landed back on the runway. The amount of smoke was crazy and the flight attendant dragged this laptop bag from two rows from the back to the lavatory to fight the fire there and there was a tail of melted carpet and it melted and badly damaged the floor of the lavatory. All this took place over the span of like 6 minutes. Then couple that with the fact that a laptop that is stuck in a seat can't be put into a thermal containment bag or easily have water put on it to cool a thermal runaway, and once out over the North Atlantic you could be hours away from a diversion airport. With an uncontained fire on a plane, crews have just minutes to get the plane on the ground.

2
Obviously Guest

Yea, totally passengers fault. Maybe they needed to place their laptop in more appropriate place? Table, bag, I dunno suitcase? Instead of between seats‍♀️

2
Cece Guest

Because it's next to impossible for the crew to get a full sleep cycle for for a long haul flight in only 12 hours. It's like if you show up at 9am for your work day, and something goes wrong 3 hours into your shift and your company tells you to go home for 12 hours, so you can show up at midnight to start your shift over again. Are you going to get another full nights rest, so you can show up at midnight and work until 10am or noon the next day.

1
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