Last month, we covered the United Airlines 787-9 diversion to Pago Pago. A mechanical issue forced a United Dreamliner bound for Sydney, Australia to stop in the capital of American Samoa. Today, we bring you a trip report from one of the passengers onboard and the excellent experience her family enjoyed while in Pago Pago.
A Family Trip Report From Pago Pago After United Airlines 787-9 Diversion
Kimberley Espinoza was traveling with her husband is Dennis two of their children, aged 19 and 14. She shared the following account with Live and Let’s Fly:
Here was my island experience: About seven hours into the flight I noticed that the screen saying how long to our destination no longer said Sydney, but Pago Pago. I thought maybe it was a glitch, because we didn’t have any info from the Captain or crew at that time. I alerted my family and we were all a bit confused. About an hour later, all the screens on the plane reset and when I looked again it still said PPG, so I assumed it was not a glitch. A short while later the Captain finally announced that we would be making an emergency landing in Pago Pago because of an oil leak in one of the engines and that it was safe and we were in good hands. I never felt in danger at any time. Because we were not expected on the island, we had to circle the island until the sun was up and they were able to staff the airport.
We landed around 7 am and walked down the jetway stairs and over to the airport lobby. The staff didn’t have much to go on as far as when we would be back up on the air, but we heard there was a plane coming from Houston and then from Sydney to get us. We waited in the airport lobby while the airport management scrambled to get staff for customs, hotel and food arrangements in place. They said that they would accommodate families first to keep them together so we lined to give them our names and the number in our party. There was a woman crying in the airport lobby once we KNEW we weren’t going to make the fireworks because, as a Mexican citizen living in Europe, she had to fly from Europe to Mexico City, then to Tijuana, cross the border on foot and take a bus to LAX to catch the flight. This was her bucket list experience also (as it was for many of us on the flight) and she had paid a lot of money to be on a boat in the harbor for the best view. Her friends and family told her she paid too much and not to do it, but she figured this was once in a lifetime and splurged. I don’t know about the couple on the honeymoon, but for us, it wasn’t about any lack of appreciation, it was just a huge disappointment that we had planned for months in advance, and took a hit to the wallet that dampened the mood.
We filled out a declaration form and then we were escorted to customs and then security. We walked from the airport to the Hangar hotel where my family was fortunate enough to get a room with 2 beds. We were told that they would cater our meals and snacks and that they would arrange busses for anyone who would like to tour the island. There was no wi-fi in the airport lobby so as soon as I was able to connect at the hotel I was trying to contact the hotel in Sydney to let them know we got diverted and would be there a day late and to not cancel our whole reservation as a no-show. As I was doing this, they announced a tour bus was going to leave and I told my husband and son to go and I’d try and get a later tour. So off they went, my daughter fell asleep and I finally got through to IHG to have them call the hotel for me. Chips and drinks were delivered to the hotel.
Around 11:30 am sandwiches were delivered-ham or tuna-and fruit salad to go with the chips and drinks. Then the staff came to our room and asked if I wanted to go on a tour and of course I did, so I woke my daughter up and got on the open-air bus. We had about a 4 hour tour of the island, we went to beaches, areas of interest, and a market selling fruits and local crafts and clothing. At one point we stopped at a park to use the bathroom and there was about 50 people having a party (with an inflatable water slide for the kids) and there were some ladies cooking BBQ. While we waited for the bathroom, they packed styrofoam take-away containers for everyone on the bus-at least 13 of us!. They gave us each 2 pieces of chicken, 2 plantains, a glass noodle dish and macaroni salad, along with utensils and a bottle of water. We were so impressed by the generosity and hospitality shown.
When we finally returned to our hotel it was around 4 pm and my husband and son returned closer to 5 pm. There was so much food that they were able to try the local cuisine also. We were told to be in the lobby at 9 so we all decided to take a nap. Around 8 we went to the lobby and they had delivered MORE food -chicken or beef and rice, but we were told that we didn’t need to be in the lobby until 10:30 now. They had brought in cots and the lobby and hallways were filled with people trying to sleep while others were chatting away. Those who didn’t have a private room had access to a bathroom and shower.
Finally at 10:30 pm we met in the lobby and got pictures with the staff and waited for busses to take us the short distance to the airport because it was too dark to walk. We got to airport around midnight and had to clear immigration and security again. While we waited in the airport lobby, just before 2 am, they started a countdown for when it would turn midnight in Sydney. That was pretty cool of them! The departure times we were told changed throughout the day, and after we left around 3 am we were finally told that Sydney airport has a curfew and our reservation was for 6 or 7 am January 1, (so an earlier departure was not going to work anyway).
The American Samoa government, airport management and staff, hotel staff, food service, bus drivers and guides and United definitely made the best of an unfortunate situation and we are grateful to everyone who had a hand in our safety and well-being during the unexpected delay to our destination. Pago Pago was beautiful and the people were welcoming and friendly.
PS. We only had 2 days in Sydney and did as much as we could, then flew Asia Air X to Auckland and spent a week traveling the north island. Overall, the trip was a blast, even with all the rain, but we decided from now on we will not travel in Dec/Jan and just stay home for the holidays 😊
I LOVE this account and she provided pictures and video too! These videos are just so delightful to watch. I love the surprise and enthusiasm and good-natured reaction to what amounted to a very inopportune diversion for so many onboard.
Here are the pictures:
Pago Pago was a pleasant surprise and I’m thankful that we were able to make a safe landing. The $200 pp United flight credit didn’t cover the +$1000 USD we were out for fireworks viewing and +$1000 hotel- both being non-refundable due to the event (family of 4 traveling to Sydney for NYE fireworks was a bucket list experience).
I do hope United will make this right.
Even so, United did a great job with this diversion and frankly the experience sounds like a once-in-a-lifetime adventure that will be more satisfying than a fireworks show over Darling Harbour (in retrospect). Kudos to the good folks of Pago Pago for their warm hospitality.
Thank you Kim and the Espinoza family for sharing your story!