Ouch: United 777 Stranded In Goose Bay For 11+ Hours (And Counting)

Filed Under: United

Update: Nearly 27 hours later, passengers and crew have returned to Newark. A few blog readers were on the flight, so be sure to read the comments below for some “fun” details of the experience.

Well this flight certainly wins the “awful diversion of the day” award.

Yesterday’s United flight UA179 from Newark to Hong Kong is currently stranded in Goose Bay, Canada, and passengers haven’t been allowed off the plane.

The flight left Newark at around 3PM local time yesterday, and started the journey to Hong Kong. The flight was nearing Greenland when they had a medical emergency, so they made the decision to divert to Goose Bay, Canada.

For what it’s worth, Goose Bay gets a fair number of diversions, especially for transatlantic flights, both for medical and mechanical reasons (we’ve even written about a United Goose Bay diversion in the past).

The plane landed about 11 hours ago, but passengers are still stuck on the plane in Goose Bay, and haven’t been let off.

Note that it’s currently -24 Fahrenheit in Goose Bay.

While the initial diversion was due to a medical emergency, they then started having issues with one of the plane’s doors, and as a result haven’t been able to depart.

Even if the plane didn’t have that issue, this would have been a tricky situation. Pilots and flight attendants have maximum hours they can work, and at this point they would have exceeded the limit if they continued to Hong Kong. However, presumably they could have returned to Newark or another major airport, but like I said above, the plane isn’t able to fly.

United is currently sending a “rescue” flight to Goose Bay, with a crew and mechanics. A 777-200 is currently enroute from Newark — UA2758 — and it’s scheduled to arrive in about 90 minutes, at 12PM in Goose Bay (11AM ET). That flight is just under 1,100 miles.

I’ll be curious to see where United flies passengers from there. I’m guessing the plan is to fly everyone back to Newark, in which case it will have been a 24 hour flight to nowhere. I doubt they’d be able to continue to Hong Kong based on the new crew potentially timing out, but I could be mistaken. I imagine whatever they’re going to do when the rescue plane gets there will take some time.

Obviously the logistics here are really complicated.

Was anyone on yesterday’s UA179 who can share a firsthand report of what happened?

  1. I’m on this flight (or lack of flight) right now seated by the problematic door. The gist of what happened was a passenger had a seizure about 45 minutes into the flight and they called for a doctor/nurse over the intercom a few times. Fast forward 4 hours into the flight he started having seizures again and they made the decision to turn around and head to Goose Bay to drop the passenger off.

    After landing, they tried to disarm the slide raft on door 3R but the lever was stuck. Some crew finally managed after struggling with it to disarm it, the passenger was unloaded and when they were preparing for takeoff again, discovered that the slide would not rearm.

    Some mechanics from Goose Bay along with the flight crew tried several times to rearm the slide including opening the door multiple times, spraying deicing fluid in case the issue was due to freezing, but nothing has worked. Now we’re just waiting for the rescue flight to come with mechanics and the hope is that they’ll be able to fix the door and get us back to Newark.

    As of right now they seem to have rescheduled our flight for Monday (originally Saturday) based on checking the United app, but the flight crew said they were bringing customer service agents up here to assist with people’s flight plans.

  2. I was on the flight but fortunately they let me off. I’m Canadian though, so it’s all good eh?

  3. (After two hours on tarmac)

    Pilot: “Folks, we’re currently in a holding pattern on the tarmac. We expect to have to wait here just a few more minutes.”

    (One hour later)

    Pilot: “Folks, we should be moving any time now. We appreciate your patience.”

    (One hour later)

    Pilot: “Folks, just a few minutes more…”

    (One hour later)

    Pilot: “Folks…” etc.

  4. 11+ hours on the plane?
    That is quite a long time. Any reason why they didn’t let passengers off the plane? Even for few hours to have a rest or walk around in the airport.

  5. Wow, feel bad for the gentleman who had the seizure but no reason to keep the others on the plane. Not cool at all

  6. Customs will not allow us to all leave the plane since this is a very small airport and they don’t have the logistics to handle a plane full of ~300 people going through customs. Flight crew said if we deplaned it would be a 7 hour process and once started they could not stop, so they’re just waiting for the rescue plane. They’re allowing 20 people at a time to go to the terminal via bus and walk around for a short period of time to stretch their legs but that’s it.

  7. For those on the flight: I’m currently in Goose Bay and am looking to fly nonstop. Can someone ask if there will be room for me to join the rescue flight?

  8. N76010 just came out of paint several days ago. It’s the first 777-200 (sCO) to be repainted following the merger, as indicated by a different registration font as well as the removal of CO’s operating certificate (CALA014A)

  9. This kind of situation is one more reason why airlines should not be allowed to keep reducing seat pitch and passenger comfort. Can you imagine how claustrophobic this must be for the people imprisoned on that plane for so many hours?

  10. My wife is a physician (Emergency Medicine) and could not believe this story. She said the plane should have been diverted ASAP for a patient having seizures. If they had to burn fuel, then do so, but they could have easily held over Newark and landed there.

  11. First of all – what does this say about United’s aircraft safety?? Why can’t the doors open – what if there was an emergency on board and no one can get off? So what if it’s “cold” – they should open on the ground under any circumstances. They should be de-certified.

    Secondly, what kind of inhumane ridiculous law is this regarding customs? So they’d rather keep several hundred people cooped up in a plane for 12 hours instead of letting them out for fresh air and a stretch of the legs in the comfort of the terminal just because of their law? Surely, an exception can be made here – it’s not a prison ffs!

  12. Ok, I agree that it sucks that they’re keeping them on the plane while they’re on the ground, but it’s -21°F at Happy Valley, and most people would not have winter gear that would suffice for those temperatures (its 45°F in NYC). Also, the flight is blocked at 16hrs, so they’d be on the aircraft for an extremely long time anyway. As one poster said, they are letting small groups (20 at a time) off the aircraft to stretch their legs.

  13. @dennis. Fresh air and stretch their legs !? You’re joking , right

    It’s -30 degrees with a winter storm approaching.

    For safety reasons it’s better to keep them on board rather than have people die from hypothermia

    Goose bay is a military airfield with a very small terminal which does not have capacity to accommodate so many people.

    Canadian authorities can only process general aviation aircraft of no more than 15 passengers

    Perhaps it’s time the authorities expanded the terminal to accommodate diversions as they are fairly frequent

    The crew will time out

    There’s a reason why they diverted there and not back to Newark since they knew the reprocussions

    @ Jeff your wife may be a physician however she wasn’t there and doesn’t fly a 777

  14. @WTF – I agree that it is not comfortable in economy, but why do you consider the passengers to be “imprisoned” in a “claustrophobic” situation when on the ground for 11 hours, as opposed to the scheduled 16 hour EWR-HKG flight they intended to be on?

  15. The nonsense about customs is BS. It would not have been a 7 hour process since every single person would get back on that plane later on. It’s not like anyone would stay in Goose Bay (the people are great but not much to do). They could have had everyone deplane and get into the terminal and they could have waited there instead of a snag seat on a plane for 11 hours.

  16. This is why they need emergency medical parachutes. Just throw the shaky fella out of the plane above a hospital and keep on to Hong Kong. Maybe the guy should have taken an Uber instead to not inconvenience all of these nice people.

  17. @icarus, yes fresh air! But more so, as @Felix said, they should be let out into the terminal. Anyway, you sound like a United fanboy, so hopefully you will be on one of their frequent disaster flights sometime soon.

  18. Does United have an ETOPS exemption, haha? Never sad to see bad press about United, but so sorry for you passengers.

  19. No excuse to land for a passenger having a seizure. The seizure would have eventually passed.

    Huge inconvenience to the other passengers and a little selfish.

  20. I was once on a Military Charter that refueled at Goose Bay in the winter and even though the stop was only a few hours as I recall, they opened the doors for a few minutes to “freshen the cabin” and I thought we would freeze to death. Fresh air ain’t all that it’s cracked up to be at -25F! I feel sorry for the passengers and crew on this one.

  21. We have a nice terminal, capable of handling 3-400 passengers per day. Its pretty tiny really. And there is no nice cozy jet bridge to take you from the plane to the terminal, it’s a 45 degree staircase truck in the cold -46F wind (currently, it’s the warmest part of the day now after all). After that, a bus to the terminal, where you could wait for one of the three customs agents….. probably quicker to wait in the plane, and avoid the free frostbite.

  22. @ John

    So you and you Dr. Wife know, UAL nor any other airline does not make the decision to divert or continue an aircraft for medical reasons. All US airlines contract with a company called MedLink for aviation related medical assistance. This company will phone patch to the pilots and a staff Dr. will tell them what to do divert, continue, or what to have the F.A.s do if no other options are available.

    And so you know, before you think it is some mom and pop operation MedLink is run with aviation medical specialists and is a subsidiary of John Hopkins.

  23. “Customs will not allow us to all leave the plane since this is a very small airport and they don’t have the logistics to handle a plane full of ~300 people going through customs.”

    This sounds like BS to me. Let people off the plane but require them to stay in the international area of the terminal so that they never actually enter Canada and, therefore, don’t have to go through customs.

  24. @ Dennis never flown united and if you read about every divert to goose bay the story is more or less the same.

    Customs are only able to process general aviation aircraft with a capacity of 15 passengers The terminal can’t hold so many passengers comfortably. Most would end up sitting on a concrete floor

  25. @Icarus, your message is right on point.

    I too have been to Goose bay and only in extreme cases can it handle in bounds such as this. Air France A380 is a situation where they knew they were going to be there for an extended period of time. But that was also in September 2017, not January. This is NOT a UAL fault. It was for passenger care that they diverted and passenger safety that they are still on the plane. As a 20 year airline employee, do you really think that the cockpit and inflight crew want to be there too? All the armchair Dr’s and pilots need to understand that there are many factors involved.

  26. Just to follow-up, I’m trying to get from Goose Bay to Hong Kong today. Can anyone on the plane now see if I can buy the seat where the guy with the medical issue was sitting for today’s rescue flight?? Pls let me know, United’s phone reps have no info.

  27. Rob says:
    January 20, 2019 at 11:58 am…..”MedLink is run with aviation medical specialists and is a subsidiary of John Hopkins”

    Are you from NY? It’s JOHNS HOPKINS not John Hopkins

  28. I love how people only think of the passengers, imagine the flight attendants who are trapped with people complaining and demanding all while themselves being trapped and overworked.

  29. @ Robert. Of course many entirely ignore the crew and never thinks they are equally frustrated and somehow immune

  30. In response to [email protected]: Because this time they spend stuck on the ground is going to be in addition to the time they spend in flight, not to mention the frustration they’re no doubt dealing with. Will they be transferred to a different plane and get to depart, or will they have to sit there while mechanics try to repair the door? (That said, I realize a flight back to Newark isn’t as long as the originally intended flight to Hong Kong, so they’re fortunate in that respect.)

  31. Too bad they couldn’t have diverted to Gander; we all know that Gander could easily handle the passengers on one 777.
    Coincidentally I saw “Come From Away” this week. If you haven’t seen it, do so, it is the best musical theater I have seen in ages.

  32. I used to fly military charters and often used to make tech stops in Goose. There are no facilities to handle passengers anywhere near by nor transport to get them there. They are best off on the plane until the rescue flight can get there.

  33. @WTF

    They did attempt to fix the door but ultimately determined that they will need to replace parts and it would take longer than moving us to the rescue plane.

    All passengers have been moved to the new plane via bus and we’re just waiting to see if our luggage is being moved to the new plane as well. Last we heard, UA was working with Canadian officials to see if they can move the luggage.

  34. Finally transferred to new aircraft. Hoping to get off in about 30 min. When this ends it will be 26+ hours flight to nowhere. Something that I will remember forever. Remarkable patience by passengers. Few heated arguments early in the night but relatively calm after that. The Aviation terminal is small and you freeze by the time you get to bottom of stairs. Crew kept us fed through the night and was fantastic. Corporate’s response could have been much better. Hope they compensate passengers adequately.

    For those asking why we could not get off the plane, there are not enough hotels here to accommodate this many passengers and terminal is really small. Temperature inside the plane was OK so I think we were better on the tarmac.

    Hoping to get to EWR and put this behind me.

  35. I wonder if Keflavik, Iceland would have been better. Probably better for the passengers in retrospect but not better for UA.

  36. Obviously, the airline has nothing to do with the size of the terminal or the number of people that particular Canadian Customs station is able to process. They probably only have a couple of agents present and only a few more, beyond that, they could call to come in and assist.

    Trust me, as a business owner, there’s no way I would allow my customers and staff to endure something like that unless I had no other choice! The very idea that a company would CHOOSE to keep passengers and crew on board the aircraft – if there was another viable option – is ludicrous! Come on, people!

  37. @ Rob

    Seriously? The airline will not listen to a medical professional but just use the tele-doc? Clearly, you are not in medicine. Anyone will tell you that the opinion of someone who’s actually witnessing and is able to assess the patient is heads above any alternative. Additionaly, US carriers in particular will be extra vigilant in risk management against any hint of lawsuits.

    As someone who’s been involved in multiple mid-flight emergencies, I can tell you that the crews are very ill-prepared and have a minimum skill set for anything that happens in flight. They can barely collect vitals! Ditto the medicine kits that are on-hand. While the pilot WILL talk to the tele-doc and has to contact them, the final decision rests with him/her on what to do.

    Since passengers can no longer enter the cockpit and directly talk to the service, I have relied on telling the FAs exactly what I find and ask to relay it to the ground or, if there’s a lot happening, have actually written out short notes to help communication both in mid-air and on the ground to make things go smoother. At the end of the day, if there’s a qualified professional on the plane that makes a call to divert due to the medical situation, it’s very hard to go against their judgement (and certainly not advised from a med-legal perspective).

  38. @John – “There are no planes going to HKG from Goose Bay. They’re both going back to Newark”

    I’m seeing this on Flightaware and I’m puzzled. Both planes are 777’s. Were passengers transferred to the second 777? If the original aircraft is worthy enough to fly back to Newark, then why did they ferry up a second identical aircraft? Sure they had to get a relief crew up there, but that could’ve been done with just about any type of smaller aircraft.

  39. @boardingareaflukie

    They were transferred to the second plane and flown back to Newark. Unsure if their luggage was transferred as well. I assume so though, as the second-to-last post from @John said they were waiting to hear if the Canadian authorities would allow them to move the luggage from Plane 1 to Plane 2, but didn’t mention it in his last post saying they were going.

  40. I wonder why they did not divert to Kangerlussuaq in Greenland. Looking at the map, it must have been much closer.

  41. My opinion is this. Those of us that are not on the plane should stay quiet. We are not there seeing what’s going on, let alone experiencing it. If there is no hotel for everyone to go stay in and rest up, people might as well stay where its warm. If they were not being fed, that would have been another issue too. But, they were taken care of the best way possible. Sorry that someone got sick and needed to be off that plane. Would you rather keep going and possibly watch that person die? At least it wasn’t during Sept 11 when all planes were grounded. No, I wouldn’t have been comfortable on that plane but I would have dealt with it knowing that the inconvenios was due to a medical emergency. Life goes on. Time will heal the inconvenios and maybe some passengers made some new friends

  42. Happy to hear the passengers and crew are finally on their way. However, nobody has touched the issue of why the doors were broken? The EMERGENCY doors… United, like most other US-based airlines, are worse than 3rd world operators.

  43. Ben,

    Please don’t refer to such places as “Goose Bay, Canada”. It’s like saying “Omaha, America”. Onetime a flight attendant on my flight home said, as we arrived in Toronto “Have a nice day, here in the Canada area.”

    Hve a nice day in the United States area.

  44. People aren’t getting it. Its a small terminal, it likely can’t handle more than 50 or so people. The weather there right now will kill you if you aren’t prepared. I imagine not many people have their heavy jackets with them. Yes it sucks and maybe Canada and the airlines need to build a bigger terminal, but who pays for it? Its not forever.

  45. Look. The flight diverted due to a medical issue and then could not leave. What else do you want UA to do? They sent a replacement aircraft after they determined new parts were needed. According to people on the plane, the crew was “fantastic” and kept everyone fed. Tim Hortons provided drinks and snacks to passengers, this must have at some point been requested by the crew. And, they let people off the aircraft into the terminal, which is very small and cannot process a whole 777.

  46. We have finally landed in EWR. The luggage *was* all fully transferred since I forgot to mention that in my last comment before departing.

  47. Better to be stuck on the ground with a problem than to discover one in the air!
    This is a unique case and could occur anywhere on the planet but assume most of the 300 on boarding are figuring how much they can sue for, and likely more than 300 pit bulls (AKA Lawyers) are waiting to get their hands on the passenger list!

    And yes…..when will Americans start realizing that Canada is a country geographically much larger than the USA; perhaps recognize that a weekend in Toronto is exactly that….not a visit to Canada. If so, if someone goes to Miami USA, I guess that person can be an expert on America!

  48. Pretty amazed the luggage was transferred to the rescue plane.
    Kudos to the personnel in that weather moving luggage.

  49. “Yes it sucks and maybe Canada and the airlines need to build a bigger terminal, but who pays for it?”

    @Dan… Mexico. We will get Mexico to pay for it.

  50. DenB – Many people don’t know where Goose Bay is. Pointing out it’s in Canada is nothing like saying “welcome to the Canada area”, and you’ll find it (and every other airport) written that way if you do a flight booking request. Are you dim or just horribly arrogant?

    Dennis – No one has mentioned it because it’s a stupid point, like the rest of your posts were. Things break – not a single component on any machine is infallible. That should really be basic common sense…

  51. Darwin Charles – What is it with the stupid points about what you call Canada on this post? A weekend to Toronto IS visiting Canada. PERIOD.

    Saying you’ve been to Canada neither states nor implies that you’ve seen the whole country, nor that you’re an expert on Canada.Callum

  52. Hey Callum….my point is that most Americans are bad with geography and they rarely go to a city…..they go to Canada, regardless of where. You are correct but it is a visit to Canada or to the US, however, I notice that Canadians mention the city in the US they are visiting.

  53. @ VL. You are correct on some points regarding medlink. As a pilot for a major US based airline I can tell you that we are required to call medlink with any medical situation regardless if a qualified personal is on board of not. Certain airplanes also have the ability to patch the call to a handset in the galley area, where an on board medical personal can give his/her credentials to the medlink doctor and they both can arrive at a conclusion. Once that decision with the on board medical personal and medlink is obtained I will then consult with our own network operations to get a list of available airports, weather, and facilities. Once an agreement between myself, the flight crew, dispatch, and medlink has all come together we can start the diversion process. As a pilot I will always take the most conservative option. It’s not as simple as people would like to think and I always appreciate the use of all available resources before forming a decision which will have an impact on everyone on board.

  54. @VL – it’s not about listening to the tele-doc. it’s a complex case which involves quick decisions making in regards to the health of the pax, safety of the flight and emergency capacity at given airport at THAT particular time.
    obviously you are not certified aviation medic involved in all the talking with pilots and hospitals and airports, including fast decision makings etc. otherwise you would not even post your above post

  55. When I read about people being stuck on a plane for 12 hours, I wonder what the consequences would be of leading a mutiny and opening one the doors (that’s working that is) and sliding down the chutes. Is this a felony punishable by jail time? At some point it becomes cruel and unusual punishment to be on a plane so long, especially one with overflowing toilets and/or no food, and one could argue that there was justification for escaping. Also, since as in this case it was in a foreign country, would the consequences be more or less?

  56. @Jennifer Ward

    That would be incredibly stupid. The temperature outside was -20 and with the high winds, the wind chill was -50. The plane was far enough away from any buildings that you would be in danger walking to the terminal without the proper amount of protective layers on. They even bussed us from the one plane to the other which was “only” about 200 feet. Just walking down the stairs to the bus and back up the stairs onto the other plane was quite brutal wearing clothes appropriate for the destination (Hong Kong).

    Opening an emergency door and deploying the slide would put EVERYBODY in considerably MORE DANGER than being stuck in a well heated airplane cabin, so I’m glad nobody attempted to do anything like that.

    On top of the brutal cold, Goose Bay is both a civilian airport and a Canadian Forces base, so you could probably expect a quick reaction from the military if you attempted to illegally enter Canada.

    I know a lot of people were frustrated by being stuck in the airplane, but there is also a lot of exaggeration on Twitter as to the state of things on that plane. The toilets were not overflowing and I don’t even remember seeing anybody posting that, so I’m not sure where you’re getting that from. Food was not dwindling in the way people described. We had been served dinner before the emergency landing, and several hours into the delay they served us breakfast. By morning when the Canadian officials started coming into the airport, they brought a huge resupply of water, sandwiches, muffins, and doughnuts from Tim Hortons.

  57. Someone, maybe a substitute teacher in Goose Bay, might consider a new business which would resupply passengers with food. They would then contract with airlines for a yearly fee and fee for each use. I wonder if airlines would pay.

    Bare bones service would be rapidly order and deliver fast food. Additional service might be blankets. Yet additional service might be to escort 15 business class passengers into town and wait in the person’s home/lounge.

    I don’t know what the charges should be or what the airlines would pay but what if the airlines paid $300 per month and you could get 15 airlines to pay. That would be $4500 per month or $54,000 per year.

  58. Darwin Charles – Again, your point is stupid. While Americans are generally poor with Geography, I GUARANTEE that every American who visited Toronto for a weekend last year is aware that Toronto is in Canada, and that Canada is not Toronto.

    It is PERFECTLY acceptable to say that you are visiting a country, and not specify the city. What you “notice” Canadians generally do is utterly irrelevant – and not something I accept either. The vast majority of Canadians I speak to about going abroad say which country they are going to, not the specific city, especially when it’s an obscure place like Goose Bay which virtually no-one has ever heard of…

  59. Delta flight makes an emergency landing with an engine problem in a remote Alaskan island leaving passengers stranded for 11 hours onboard the plane but somehow that one does not make the headlines. Why is that? The same thing happened with the Dr. Dao incident. Delta had a passenger removed off the plane by dragging down the aisle just weeks before the Dr. Dao incident and not a peep. But UA has a similar story and all of the sudden… well, you know the story.


  60. I was on this flight. Finally back from my trip to China and available to comment. We were on the plane for 27 hours only to end up right back where we started. And then we still had our 16 hour flight to Hong Kong after that. So when I read a comment like the following I need you to know that you are minimizing the situation greatly. And as it would happen, our next flight was also delayed and we were kept on the plane for several extra hours again. Overall, not a good experience. Of course, the individual’s health was a priority but United definitely could have (and should have) sent a rescue plane much sooner than they did.

    [email protected] says:
    January 20, 2019 at 10:54 am
    @WTF – I agree that it is not comfortable in economy, but why do you consider the passengers to be “imprisoned” in a “claustrophobic” situation when on the ground for 11 hours, as opposed to the scheduled 16 hour EWR-HKG flight they intended to be on?

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