United Boeing 787 Diverts To Canadian Arctic

United Boeing 787 Diverts To Canadian Arctic

37

United Airlines passengers traveling from London to San Francisco on Saturday were in for quite an adventure, and got a free 11-hour stopover in the Canadian Arctic.

United transatlantic flight diverts to Iqaluit, Canada

On Saturday, November 5, 2022, United Airlines flight UA900 was scheduled to fly from London (LHR) to San Francisco (SFO). The flight was operated by a roughly seven year old Boeing 787-9 with the registration code N13954.

Per the schedule, the 5,368-mile flight was supposed to depart at 12:35PM and arrive at 4:40PM, and take a total of 11hr5min.

For the first five hours, the flight operated as planned, flying near the southern tip of Iceland, over Greenland, and then flying over the Canadian Arctic. However, roughly five hours into the flight, there was a mechanical issue requiring a diversion.

The decision was made to divert to Iqaluit International Airport (YFB). This was roughly 70 minutes away, and required making a sharp turn to the southeast.

United Boeing 787 diverting to Iqaluit

This airport has an 8,605-foot runway, though ordinarily only gets service from narrow body jets on domestic flights. However, it’s not too unusual to see transatlantic diversions here, when things go wrong.

Passengers were safely on the ground in Iqaluit Airport at 3:38PM local time.

Flight status for United’s diversion to Iqaluit

There was only one small issue — at this point you had a plane with mechanical issues in a remote area, with no replacement airplanes or crews anywhere close by.

United sends rescue plane & crew from Denver

United’s operations team quickly sprung into action, and by all accounts did a good job. A six year old United Boeing 787-9 with the registration code N27965 was dispatched from Denver (DEN) to Iqaluit (YFB).

The plane departed roughly four hours after the other Boeing 787 landed in Iqaluit, which is fairly impressive, when you consider that United needed to find a new plane, plus an entire new crew.

That flight took just over four hours to get to Iqaluit, and it landed there just before midnight local time.

Flight status for United’s rescue flight to Iqaluit

Admittedly there was still quite a bit of work to be done there — all passengers and bags had to be transfered to the new aircraft, and that’s all probably a bit more manual of a process than it would be at a major hub, in terms of boarding, baggage handling, etc.

The rescue flight from Iqaluit to San Francisco finally took off at 1:34AM. It’s currently enroute, and is expected to land in San Francisco at 3:40AM this morning, 11 hours behind schedule.

Flight status for United’s rescue flight from Iqaluit
United Boeing 787 flight from Iqaluit to San Francisco

Bottom line

A United Boeing 787 had to divert to the Canadian Arctic due to a mechanical issue. In a situation like this, the priority is always getting on the ground safely. The catch is that you then have to deal with the logistical challenges this presents.

While I’m sure this wasn’t a pleasant experience for passengers or crew, it seems like United handled this situation pretty well. United dispatched a plane and crew from Denver within hours, in order to pick up passengers in Iqaluit. Those passengers are currently enroute to San Francisco, and should land around 11 hours behind schedule.

And to think that just yesterday I was writing about possibly using Aeroplan points to visit Iqaluit with Canadian North. I could have just flown United from London to San Francisco. 😉

What do you make of this United Airlines diversion to Iqaluit?

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  1. HkCaGu Guest

    Hey Ben, from 4:40 pm PDT Saturday to 3:40 am PST Sunday, that's a 12-hour delay, not 11 hours.

  2. Phil Guest

    I was on this flight, and not only was the United Crew, Canada North crew, and the crew at Iqualit awesome, so were my fellow passengers. We chatted, played cards, and made the best of a crazy situation. The kind of stuff that restores your faith in people. Well done!

  3. Vinita Guest

    And how can I forget to mention all the folks at Iqaluit - thank you for welcoming us and hosting us on short notice. Would love to visit Iqaluit again :)

  4. Vinita Guest

    I was a passenger on the flight! United handled the diversion and rescue plane well. The crews on both flights were amazing. Thanks United Airlines.

  5. Norman Gordon Guest

    They should at least thought about the wait time in San Francisco about customs
    Should have left 3 hours later
    Hmmm......

  6. Captain Kevin Gray Guest

    Three or four times a year we have similar diversions either from, like in this case a mechanical issue, or an onboard medical emergency. Iqaluit has an excellent fully equipped hospital ready to handle any medical issue.
    It is just too bad when they designed the new airport terminal that a fully modern air bridge was not incorporated to handle not only scheduled flights but adhoc flight like this United flight to at least...

    Three or four times a year we have similar diversions either from, like in this case a mechanical issue, or an onboard medical emergency. Iqaluit has an excellent fully equipped hospital ready to handle any medical issue.
    It is just too bad when they designed the new airport terminal that a fully modern air bridge was not incorporated to handle not only scheduled flights but adhoc flight like this United flight to at least allow the passengers to deplane for some fresh Arctic air….

  7. Mr Pinguinos Guest

    I had a recent experience bwith United as well. Fkying from Toronto to Houston at 6am one morning, the aircraft had nobody to fuel it! We waited on board for 90-min until someone showed up tonfuel the aircraft before departure.
    All of the time BEFORE the flight and DURING the flight the crew did an amazing job of keeping everyone informed what was happening. Then during the flight the crew came to each and...

    I had a recent experience bwith United as well. Fkying from Toronto to Houston at 6am one morning, the aircraft had nobody to fuel it! We waited on board for 90-min until someone showed up tonfuel the aircraft before departure.
    All of the time BEFORE the flight and DURING the flight the crew did an amazing job of keeping everyone informed what was happening. Then during the flight the crew came to each and every passenger's seat to tell us of our rebooked and new onward passage.
    I haven't flown United for a long while but I was really impressed with the professionalism and great care/service provided by the Captain and all memebrs of the cabin crew. Well done United!

  8. Mattie Morals Guest

    Great job by United Airlines. Excellent inflight crew and operations made it happen. Not much snacks or drinks provided though. Overall feel safe, and caring when flying with United Air.

  9. MILA NOORDIJK Guest

    I have truly enjoyed reading this article about diversion to Iqaluit Airport in the Canadian Arctic.

    Canadain North (CN) airlines are primary airllanes in the Arctic. The crew is amazing and always making every effort to make passangers travel comfortable and enjyable.

    Thank you Canadaina North crew, You ROCK!!
    Mila <3

  10. Meg Guest

    I was on this flight- the decision to land was definately a good one and the United staff did a good job to keep us fed and comfortable. However I was due to fly onwards to Auckland and then Queenstown and missed these flights. I was put on a flight to Brisbane and then to Queenstown instead, with an 18 hour wait in San Fransisco Airport. The United airport staff were extremely unhelpful- spoke to...

    I was on this flight- the decision to land was definately a good one and the United staff did a good job to keep us fed and comfortable. However I was due to fly onwards to Auckland and then Queenstown and missed these flights. I was put on a flight to Brisbane and then to Queenstown instead, with an 18 hour wait in San Fransisco Airport. The United airport staff were extremely unhelpful- spoke to about 8 different staff members and none of them had a clue about what had just happened to us. One even advised that "this kind of thing happens all the time". I spent four hours being directed to different United staff asking for somewhere to have a shower since my journey was now 28 hours longer than planned (72 hours in total). All were pretty rude until eventually one of my fellow passengers directed me to a staff member who had eventually helped her after much argument and given her a voucher to get a shower. Disorganized and rude airport staff- not what you need after a pretty scary (and long) flying experience with a long wait and journey ahead of you.

  11. Pierre Leblanc Guest

    Better late and alive. Safety first. 11 hours delay! impressive out of the Canadian Arctic. Well done United!

    1. Brian C. Guest

      I was on the United flight UA900 which was diverted. This article, and Anthony's comments, sums it up very well.

      I must say I was very impressed with how United handled the situation (along of course with the amazing folks on the ground in Iqaluit -- though the compensation from United could be much better. The cabin crew was amazing and along with the captain, coordinated everything on the ground. communication and expectation setting...

      I was on the United flight UA900 which was diverted. This article, and Anthony's comments, sums it up very well.

      I must say I was very impressed with how United handled the situation (along of course with the amazing folks on the ground in Iqaluit -- though the compensation from United could be much better. The cabin crew was amazing and along with the captain, coordinated everything on the ground. communication and expectation setting were always super clear. The local police and their colleagues at the airport were so friendly too and did an amazing job.

      What didn't go down well is when we arrived at SFO 2 hours before immigration / customs opened. Sitting on the aircraft added more hassle but this was not United's fault. United fed and watered passengers throughout.

  12. Michael Haddon Guest

    Very interesting article! I spent over a decade in Iqaluit, NU, and am not surprised that the passengers and crew were treated well.

  13. CXP Member

    Curious what the mechanical issue was that forced the diversion. Anyone have insights?

    1. North Guest

      Heard there was engine vibrations. Number 2 was shut down when they landed.

    2. Brian C. Guest

      Vibrations in the tail is what we were told.

  14. RAD Guest

    Problem was when they arrived in SFO at 3:45am, customs wasn't open, so they had to wait on the plane for two more hours.

  15. Jeremy Guest

    Pretty impressive fix to this. I’m curious how they had another 787 not being used and whether other flights in Denver were impacted.

    1. Brian C. Guest

      There was a flight cancellation from Denver to Frankfurt. That plane was sent to collect us.

    2. MDwoe Guest

      Denver to Frankfurt cancelled so they could send rescue plane and crew… flight 182

  16. jsm Guest

    When I started to read this posting I thought there might be a "Come From Away 2" heading for Broadway. Of course a change of location from Gander to Iqaluit but same good ending and wonderful support from our Canadian neighbors.

    1. k1b2637 Diamond

      Come From Away is one of the best plays/musicals I've ever seen! Massively underrated

  17. Tom Guest

    I was on this flight. United Airlines, Canadian North and staff at Iqaluit Airport went above and beyond to provide us with food, drinks and regular updates during our Arctic adventure. Thank you!

    1. Tim Dunn Diamond

      that's great to hear and proof that airlines diverting to an offline city can provide good service.
      Next time Ben posts something about poor customer service during a diversion, this post should be flagged.

  18. David Lamb Guest

    Iqaluit is a standard diversion airport for flights over northern Canada since it is no more than three hours from any point in the transatlantic arctic region. It doesn’t have much creature comfort, but if you have to get on the ground in any conditions, it’s a good place to go.

    You are also correct. For UA to find a crew and an aircraft available, crewed, fueled and catered in four hours is not just...

    Iqaluit is a standard diversion airport for flights over northern Canada since it is no more than three hours from any point in the transatlantic arctic region. It doesn’t have much creature comfort, but if you have to get on the ground in any conditions, it’s a good place to go.

    You are also correct. For UA to find a crew and an aircraft available, crewed, fueled and catered in four hours is not just good, it’s outstanding. It’s takes us no less than three hours to do that and that is in the domestic US.

    Given the circumstances, a job well done.

    1. Anthony Guest

      Thank you for this very accurate article, Mr. Lamb.
      As one of the approximately 250 passengers on this flight, I will say that United and the aircraft crew, were great. Being diverted for a mechanical issue, especially when it's safer to turn around and fly an hour plus in essentially the opposite direction rather than continue, seemed a bit nerve racking but all passengers and crew stayed in good spirits.
      Our crew let...

      Thank you for this very accurate article, Mr. Lamb.
      As one of the approximately 250 passengers on this flight, I will say that United and the aircraft crew, were great. Being diverted for a mechanical issue, especially when it's safer to turn around and fly an hour plus in essentially the opposite direction rather than continue, seemed a bit nerve racking but all passengers and crew stayed in good spirits.
      Our crew let us know what to expect as we rerouted and throughout the landing, taxiing, holding process. We were told of the plan to bring a replacement aircraft and crew from Chicago and that it would take several hours so a number of us thought it better to go inside and try to gain access to communication (no available wifi or cellular service on the plane) rather than stay on the plane.
      There were no restaurants in the airport and we were told that hotels were full or $400+ for the night and that there was no real customs agents to take care of us so I don't know what would have happened had someone insisted to not fly out of there on the replacement aircraft.
      Other flights were cleared out of the airport before we were allowed off of the aircraft allowing our passengers to essentially take over the small, secured area. Rather than stay quarantined on the airplane, those of us who decided to deplane were all worried about notifying friends and family that we were fine so many of us decided to go inside.
      United crew was fast to bring out snacks and the Iqaluit airport staff (Canadian Air(?), and police officers at the airport were incredibly friendly and helpful. They brought in several hundred sandwiches, drinks, pizza, and chicken wings from (I assume) local restaurants for us to snack on during the several hour wait. They even brought in someone to work the tiny souvenier shop for us all to have something to do while we waited. Wifi did end up being available off and on but I saw no one speaking on the phone except for one man who borrowed the cell phone of one of the very nice, local police officers who even spoke to the man's wife to confirm his story that we were stuck in Canada temporarily.
      Unfortunately, once we did get back to the States, we were not allowed off the aircraft again since we landed at ~3:30 and customs wasn't open until 6 am. Uncomfortable, yes. Unhappy, no. United did what they needed to do for the safety of the passengers. I was staying in the Bay Area so I was less affected than several who were going on to further destinations (New Zealand and Australia were the final destinations for several).
      Sincere appreciation to the Iqaluit airport staff, police officers, and community for helping us to stay comfortable during our unexpected stay.

  19. Stickler Guest

    Being south of the Arctic Circle, Iqaluit would be more accurately described as being located in the Canadian Far North.

  20. Patrick O'Conner Guest

    So here's my question. If I had been a passenger on that flight and had wanted to go through Canadian customs, check into a local hotel, and find my own way back home would I have been allowed to do so?

    1. Mats Guest

      We were not. We were confined to the new terminal and fed sandwiches and softdrinks while watched by the local police. The locals were super helpful and friendly.

      We were told that it was not possible to clear immigration and customs and besides all the hotels were fully booked.

    2. Charlotte Ferrey Guest

      Hotels were all fully booked according to my son who was onboard this flight.

    3. Eskimo Guest

      My guess is if you really needed to go through customs the CBSA is there for you. The reason they wouldn't let people clear immigration is because they just simply can't handle a 787 both for CBSA and hotels.

      If you remember stories from 9/11 many were stuck on the plane for hours before being able to go thorough immigration.

    4. John C Guest

      Iqaluit Canada Customs is not set up for or authorized to clear passengers into Canada for this type of operation, unless a passenger has a medical emergency, or it’s an exceptional event (ie 9/11). Otherwise they have limited hours and are for preplanned small general aviation aircraft

  21. Tim Dunn Diamond

    We didn't hear about how things went on the ground for these passengers - the subject of a number of recent OMAAT stories - but the diversion recovery was done right.
    This is what global airlines do when things don't work right.

    Now let's see when they get the diverted 787 out of there

  22. Colin Guest

    Thanks for putting this together! We at Canadian North were honored to assist the passengers and crew with all their needs. The whole team at United were great and the passengers (some in shorts) got to have a glimpse of the Canadian Arctic

    1. Mats Guest

      We were not allowed to leave. We were confined to the new terminal and fed sandwiches and softdrinks while watched by the local police. The locals were super helpful and friendly.

      We were told that it was not possible to clear immigration and customs and besides all the hotels were fully booked.

      Huge thanks to the staff who did everything they could to make it a good experience. Special thanks to the police officer who...

      We were not allowed to leave. We were confined to the new terminal and fed sandwiches and softdrinks while watched by the local police. The locals were super helpful and friendly.

      We were told that it was not possible to clear immigration and customs and besides all the hotels were fully booked.

      Huge thanks to the staff who did everything they could to make it a good experience. Special thanks to the police officer who kept up a steady stream of information jokes and a mini popquiz.

    2. Ans Guest

      Be glad they had the new airport ready, in 2017 we landed in the middle of the night in Iqaluit with a Swiss aircraft 777-300 ( 217 passengers) but customs in Iqaluit could than only handle 15 internationally passengers so we stayed in the luckely warm plane (outside temps were F 40.) till we got a rescue plane.
      Glad you all arrived safely.

  23. Jake Guest

    Well done United. I take note of things like these, which matter tremendously and are worth paying a difference over no-frill or badly run airlines, which would have abandoned passengers for several days (as it often happens).

    Kudos

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Colin Guest

Thanks for putting this together! We at Canadian North were honored to assist the passengers and crew with all their needs. The whole team at United were great and the passengers (some in shorts) got to have a glimpse of the Canadian Arctic

8
Anthony Guest

Thank you for this very accurate article, Mr. Lamb. As one of the approximately 250 passengers on this flight, I will say that United and the aircraft crew, were great. Being diverted for a mechanical issue, especially when it's safer to turn around and fly an hour plus in essentially the opposite direction rather than continue, seemed a bit nerve racking but all passengers and crew stayed in good spirits. Our crew let us know what to expect as we rerouted and throughout the landing, taxiing, holding process. We were told of the plan to bring a replacement aircraft and crew from Chicago and that it would take several hours so a number of us thought it better to go inside and try to gain access to communication (no available wifi or cellular service on the plane) rather than stay on the plane. There were no restaurants in the airport and we were told that hotels were full or $400+ for the night and that there was no real customs agents to take care of us so I don't know what would have happened had someone insisted to not fly out of there on the replacement aircraft. Other flights were cleared out of the airport before we were allowed off of the aircraft allowing our passengers to essentially take over the small, secured area. Rather than stay quarantined on the airplane, those of us who decided to deplane were all worried about notifying friends and family that we were fine so many of us decided to go inside. United crew was fast to bring out snacks and the Iqaluit airport staff (Canadian Air(?), and police officers at the airport were incredibly friendly and helpful. They brought in several hundred sandwiches, drinks, pizza, and chicken wings from (I assume) local restaurants for us to snack on during the several hour wait. They even brought in someone to work the tiny souvenier shop for us all to have something to do while we waited. Wifi did end up being available off and on but I saw no one speaking on the phone except for one man who borrowed the cell phone of one of the very nice, local police officers who even spoke to the man's wife to confirm his story that we were stuck in Canada temporarily. Unfortunately, once we did get back to the States, we were not allowed off the aircraft again since we landed at ~3:30 and customs wasn't open until 6 am. Uncomfortable, yes. Unhappy, no. United did what they needed to do for the safety of the passengers. I was staying in the Bay Area so I was less affected than several who were going on to further destinations (New Zealand and Australia were the final destinations for several). Sincere appreciation to the Iqaluit airport staff, police officers, and community for helping us to stay comfortable during our unexpected stay.

7
Tom Guest

I was on this flight. United Airlines, Canadian North and staff at Iqaluit Airport went above and beyond to provide us with food, drinks and regular updates during our Arctic adventure. Thank you!

5
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