A United Airlines 787-9 traveling from London to San Francisco diverted to the icy Canadian hinterland of Iqaluit after unexplained vibrating forced the unplanned detour.
United Airlines Flight Diverted To Iqaluit After 787-9 Mechanical Issue
Let’s review what happened first, then we’ll pivot to how United Airlines responded…which was pretty darn impressive under the circumstances, although there were some unintended consequences.
- UA900 departed from London (LHR) bound for San Francisco (SFO) on November 5, 2022
- The route was operated by a Boeing 787-9 (N13954)
- Five hours into the flight, while flying over the Canadian Arctic, a mechanical issue arose onboard, prompting the captain to determine a diversion was necessary.
- The mechanical issue was reportedly a vibrating, whose source could not be isolated
- Iqaluit International Airport (YFB) was chosen as the diversion point
But landing the aricraft safely was only half the game. Suddenly, a plane full of passengers was stranded in the icy Canadian Arcitic, where the outside temperatures topped out at 18ºF (-10ºC).
United Sends In A New Plane
When it became apparent UA900 would divert to YFB, United’s operational team sprang to work.
A 787-9 was flown in from Denver (DEN), taking off four hours after UA900 touched down in YFB. Just over four hours later, the plane landed in Iqaluit with a rescue crew and preparations began to transfer luggage and other personal effects onto the rescue aircraft.
At just after 1:30 am, the aircraft finally took off for San Francisco, arriving five hours later.
Communication Was Key
Based upon a number of passenger reports, all praiseworthy of how United handled this, the key that made this unfortunate diversion a success story was communication. Specifically, the captain and crew of UA900 clearly explained what was going on to passengers, even before the plane landed in Iqaluit.
This assuaged the fear of many passengers (after all, the vibrating must have been quite scary) and also prepared them for what was to come: a long wait.
While Iqaluit has a long runway and has welcomed many widebody diversions over the years, the infrastructure remains very limited. Passengers found limited to zero mobile phone coverage, spotty wi-fi in the passenger terminal, and no hotel facilities capable of accommodating a plane full of people (in fact, there is not even an immigration facility in Iqaluit).
— ｋ ᖇ乇г Ƥʰᵒᵗ (@FrankReardon1) November 5, 2022
But Canadian hospitality was on full display, with hundreds of sandwiches, pizza, chicken wings, and drinks brought in for the stranded passengers. The airport’s souvenir shop even opened.
The plane finally took off at 1:34 am local time and landed at SFO at 3:40 am, about 11 hours late. Unfortunately, the immigration facility at SFO did not open until 6:00 am, meaning the passengers had to wait onboard for a couple hours before being let off the plane. That seems like adding insult to injury, but there was surprisingly little anger because United clearly laid out what passengers should expect, including this wait on the ground in SFO.
One Unintended Consequence
How could United have assembled a 787-9 with crew so quickly? Well, it turns out United canceled UA182, set to travel from Denver (DEN) to Frankfurt (FRA) utilizing that same 787-9.
Passengers to Frankfurt and beyond were re-accommodated on other flights, but I have to imagine this last-minute cancellation stung more than the delay for those passengers stranded in Iqualuit.
Still, it’s not like United could leave those UA900 passengers just chilling in the airport terminal until it freed up a jet. The move likely represented a better choice between two unideal options that were not ideal.
A United 787 diverted to the icy city of Iqaluit after a mechanical issue arose onboard. United successfully flew in a rescue aircraft from Denver, getting passengers from London to San Francisco about 11 hours behind schedule. Thanks to its proactive communication, most passengers appeared to give United high marks for the way it handled this unplanned diversion.
And I have to admit…seeing the pictures in Iqualuit makes me want to take a trip on Canadian North to Nunavut.
image: @FrankReardon1 / Twitter