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).
@United #UAL900 parked at the gate in #Iqaluit #Nunavut NOV.4.2022 #YFBSpotters #N13954 #B789 #Dreamliner pic.twitter.com/A0KSxATQ5n
— 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
It’s spelled Iqaluit. Add the extra “u” and it turns into something unsavory.
I googled it (in incognito mode) and I lol’d.
No one on the plane was told that customs/immigration would not open until 6am. It was only announced on arrival at SFO. We were all waiting to meet passengers at 3.45am.
I still cannot understand how difficult is for an airline to communicate to the immigration authorities that an emergency situation has happened and they will need to send some agents to be there when the plane lands at 3am. How difficult is to get some folks out of their beds earlier to make things smoother for passengers that have been through hell already? Unbelievable how lazy these people are.
CBP is notoriously difficult to get at the last minute. I’ve handled flights into DEN and they rarely make exceptions to stay late even when flights are delayed for circumstances outside of an airline’s control. Once had a 12hr delay since customs would not stay late.
I am a retired United pilot, and I’ll tell you that in 30 years, I never once saw CBP open early. Not once. They simply won’t do it. Ever. So blaming United for that is extremely misguided.
SFO CPB IS THR WORSE
TEHY WON’T OPEN A SECOND BEFORE 6AM NO MATTER HOW EARLY YOU ARRIVE.
THEY JUST START WORKING AT 6 AM.
UA HAS(D)DEL TLV AT 6 AM (IN MANY CASES GETTING IN EARLIER ONCE LANDED AT 0340)
AND A HANDFUL OF INTERNATIONAL CARRIERS/ALL YOU DO IS WAIT.SOMETIMES FELLS LONGER THEN THE ENITRE FLIGHT
YES THE GATEWAY TO THE BAY AREA OPENS AT 6 AM.
ONLY MAJOR IN THE AIRPORT.
Government is government. they are lazy.
Agents gets paid by the hour
“When it became apparent UA900 would diver to YFB”
How does a plane DIVER? Wouldn’t want to be on a diver
Also, does this mean 2 PQFs for the pax?
It is a sad day at United Airlines. A beautiful 767-300 with Polaris sears and EvoBlu livery was flown to TUP to be scrapped.
Which tail number? Out of curiosity, how did you get that information?
I’m curious too. Since when is UA scrapping 763s?
They aren’t. Maybe it’s getting painted.
I went to Iqaluit this summer using an Aeroplan award on Cadinian North, great value compared to cash price. 🙂
How was Iqaluit?
it was interesting and I enjoyed learning more about the Inuit culture. Unfortunately, they were many sad social issues there as well. I was there for 72 hours and stayed at an Airbnb.
The Canadian North is beautiful and so welcoming! Well done YFB!
Matt, hoping for for a future review of Air North and Canadian North!
Even the United app got it wrong! The flight was scheduled to arrive at 4:40 pm PDT Saturday. It eventually arrived at 3:53 am PST Sunday. It was 12 h 13 min late, not 11 h 13 min. (Interestingly, the flight took off from Iqaluit at 1:48 am EDT after leaving the “gate” at 1:34 am EDT. Why did United “schedule” it for 2:00 am, which by default could only be EST?
Even reading this comment three times has done nothing to help me understand what it is you’re trying to say.
Re The UA 767 to TUP…it had corrosion issues and will be scrapped. Even the ferry flight was operated
at below 10,000′ to eliminate pressurization of the cabin.
What tail number?
UA 767 N646UA