Timeline Of How United Stranded And SLOWLY Rescued Hundreds In Goose Bay Canada

I posted yesterday about how United had stranded hundreds of passengers in remote Goose Bay, Canada, after United 958 bound for London from Chicago suffered a broken rudder just after it had started to cross the Atlantic Ocean. It turned around and diverted to Happy Valley – Goose Bay, which is definitely in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. The pilots were able to land the plane and all the passengers and crew are safe and sound.

United’s treatment of the passengers was pretty much a debacle, however. Apparently the hotels were full, so they put the passengers up in barracks that are operated by the Canadian Forces Base. (Though there was room in the inn for the pilots and crew.) At least some of the barracks were unheated, so it wasn’t the most pleasant stay though obviously could have been much worse. The real issue was the poor performance of United’s response team which couldn’t get the passengers out of Canada for over 20 hours.

Jay, a One Mile at a Time reader, happened to be on the flight and left some detailed comments about the experience on the original post. I used that information as well as other reports to piece together the following timeline of events regarding the diversion to Goose Bay, the subsequent replacement flight which encountered its own issues, and the impact on other United flights that day — mostly because it’s fascinating to me to see the chain of events. All of the italicized text below are excerpts from Jay’s comments. (lightly edited for clarity)

Friday, June 12, 4:24 p.m.

UA 958 departs Chicago for London (34 minutes late), expected arrival is 5:55 am Saturday morning. The Boeing 767-300 has 176 passengers and 11 crew onboard.

UA 958 on the ground in Goose Bay (courtesy of Jay)
UA 958 on the ground in Goose Bay (courtesy of Jay)

Friday, June 12, 11:46 p.m.

UA 958 lands at Goose Bay on a diversion due to a broken rudder.

First, the pilot did an amazing job here. I talked with some FAs, who were literally in tears thinking the plane was going down (yes, it was a jammed rutter). Think about some of the worst turbulence you’ve ever experienced; it was like that but we had clear skies. 

United 898 on June 12, 2015 diverted to Goose Bay, Canada.
United 898 on June 12, 2015 diverted to Goose Bay, Canada.

Saturday, June 13, sometime after midnight

We were cleared for entry to Canada via two customs agents who were extremely nice after undoubtedly being awaken to clear a 767 at midnight.

The issue was that we never touched the civilian terminal. Old school buses picked us straight up from the aircraft, took us straight to customs, and then back on the same bus to the barracks. Originally, we were told a replacement 767 would arrive Saturday morning for a straight continuation to London Heathrow. Given that, none of us could find better options. Of course, the story changed when the original replacement was grounded for maintenance as well.

Transportation to the barracks.  (Photo courtesy of Jay.)
Transportation to the barracks. (courtesy of Jay.)

The people of Goose Bay were amazing and totally empathetic. That said, accommodations were a disaster. First and Business were on the first bus to the barracks. We had no heat, a single sheet (most didn’t have blankets), had to make the beds ourselves (no big deal given the situation), and had to share a bathroom with a stranger. In my room, it was 57° F (14° C). May not seem cold, but with only a sheet and no fresh clothes, I can assure it was unpleasant. Some of the other barracks did have heat, so I believe it was isolated to barracks 306 (mine) and 305. The rest were toasty. We all understood the immediacy and lack of time to prep, so really this wasn’t a big deal. 

United, on the other hand, was silent. We were told we’d leave the barracks at 1 p.m. for a continuation to London. When it became clear through several calls to the United MileagePlus line that our replacement plane wasn’t going to make it, nobody said a word. We all built a network and shared info, no thanks to proactive outreach by United.

Saturday, June 13, 1:45 p.m.

UA 2176 departs Newark for Goose Bay to rescue the stranded passengers. It departs nearly five hours late due to its own “aircraft maintenance” issue. Had it left as scheduled, it would in fact, have arrived around 1 p.m.

Saturday, June 13, 4:30 p.m.

Finally, 4:30 p.m. on Saturday afternoon rolls around and we take buses back to the airfield. Still no plane.

goosebayairportlayout
Goose Bay airport

Saturday, June 13, 5:26 p.m.

UA 2176, the replacement plane dispatched to rescue the stranded passengers from UA 958, lands at Goose Bay.

New plane comes, we board. Then time starts ticking, presumably due to congestion at EWR. Yes, we had to fly back to EWR to continue on the same plane to LHR. No news as to why.

Saturday, June 13, 6:25 p.m.

UA 925 diverts to Goose Bay while on its way from London to Washington Dulles for its own mechanical issue.

Incidentally, another UA plane made an emergency landing at Goose Bay while we were waiting on our replacement.  [For those keeping score, United now has three wide-bodies on the ground in Goose Bay, an airport that is not part of the United route network.  There are no United ground staff.]

Saturday, June 13, 8:21 p.m.

UA 925, which had diverted to Goose Bay from London, departs on a continuation to Dulles after spending 2 hours on the ground.

...on the way to Washington Dulles
These folks got off easy.

Saturday, June 13 9:17 p.m.

UA 2065 finally departs Goose Bay for Newark with the passengers of UA 958.

Saturday, June 13, 9:55 p.m.

UA 940, originally scheduled to fly from Newark to London on Saturday night, is cancelled due to “operational difficulties”, freeing up a landing slot at Heathrow for UA 2063, the special segment flight that will eventually transport the passengers from UA 958. It’s unclear how many of those passengers had to be rebooked for the next day.

Saturday, June 13 11:17 p.m.

UA 2065 arrives in Newark with the passengers of UA 958.

Get to EWR at midnight and United really bit it operationally. Bag re-check and ticketing queue took 2 hours for some. Seats were a mess, to the point where the agents gave up and said “just keep your original seats.”

Of course, many angry passengers on United 940 were rebooked onto United 2063. That became a complete disaster with duplicate seats, as all of us on United 958 were told to keep our original seats, thus leaving the system confused.

United 2065 arrives in Newark.
United 2065 arrives in Newark.

Sunday, June 14, 2:18 a.m.

UA 2063 departs for London carrying the passengers of UA 958 (and some of the UA 940 passengers who moved over to that flight.)

All that sorted, we finally took off …

Sunday, June 14, 2:28 p.m.

UA 2063 arrives in London, over 32 hours late.

…and landed in London.

The passengers of United 958 finally arrive in London, 32 hours late.
The passengers of United 958 finally arrive in London, 32 hours late.

Compensation

United had offered to refund the leg plus 25,000 United miles or a $500 ecert.

Bottom Line

The experience sucked but we all made the most of it (and enjoyed some fine Canadian beer during the wait). We are safe, and recognize that inconvenience is a small price to pay for that hero of a pilot landing a broken plane in Goose Bay.

GooseBay beer


Thanks Jay for providing the detailed comments about the ordeal. 

Comments

  1. Thanks for a great summary of the event! This is truly an informative report!

    My question: “Will United use this timeline and this blog post to better prepare them for their next diversion to Goose Bay? Maybe it is time to hire an airport manager at YYJ, too!”

    Carfield

  2. I haven’t flown United in years and certainly wouldn’t after this debacle. The issue isn’t that it happened it is the poor response by UA. They are a horrible Airline and I remember when they were one of the best

  3. I’ve got say this provides a heck of a lot more clarity than anything I’ve seen or read from mainstream news sites. Given the circumstances, it sounds like this could have been a hell of a lot worse of an outcome. That doesn’t diminish the extremely shitty job United did, but kudos to the pilot for being able to land that plane safely!

  4. UA is refunding the ‘flight leg’ plus a (likely unusable) $500 voucher or 25,000 miles? UA is totally pathetic here.

    On top of stranding passengers in a freezing cold environment (while putting up their own crew in a hotel), UA dispatch was totally incompetent in getting a replacement plane out there. At some point doesn’t an airline do the ‘right thing’ and charter a plane if they have stranded hundreds of people? And then zero communication from UA with the passengers?

    Sad day for United Airlines. Can’t trust their maintenance, (aging) airplanes or customer service.

  5. ha it’s actually a Labrador magnet for my girls. we collect magnets from cities we visit, so figured it fitting to have a memory of this weekend

  6. This is a great report, thanks for sharing.

    While it’s understandable that mechanical issues occur (and I’d certainly want an aircraft with an inoperable rudder on the ground rather than in the air), it seems like United really sh*t the proverbial bed with their lack of communication and general disorganization.

  7. Not one person got on the telephone and tried to make their own hotel reservation? They said all hotels are full, but maybe the Cost $$$$ was the issue for United. I was there a few years ago, and I seem to remember quite a few B&B’s.

  8. I don’t quite know how, but at a quick glance, I read the title as United stranding and slowly rescuing hundreds of geese in Canada.

  9. Every affected passenger deserves a free first class ticket to any destination at any date in the future.

  10. Proof that the poster suffered greatly at the hands of United, to the point of losing his mind: He believes that Molson Canadian is “fine Canadian beer.”

  11. All those feeling entitled – how about being thankful for being alive? Just putting things in perspective!

  12. I had a similar experience in January of 2001 on American from LHR to BOS.

    The flight just past Ireland lost an engine. Hours later it lost the APU and we basically glided into Goose Bay (the old German Army Base side.)

    The closest Canadian customs agents were hours away and we sat on the plane – they arrived about 0400 local time and the terminal had been “closed for the season.” We were processed on the aircraft and but on a school bus that took us to a restaurant close by.

    The restaurant folks were great – the AA folks – not so much.

    About 1100 hours the replacement aircraft arrived but there was an issue with crew rest – so we waited 18 hours at the restaurant. We were warm, we were able to order food and beverages.

    When we went back to the airfield we were placed on the aircraft sent up from New York and finally landed in Boston at about 1000 hours the third day.

    Immediately on the ground in Boston American was a disaster. We were given a toll-free number to call to get a refund. I was so overtired that I just took the number and a cab home.

    They only wanted to refund the travel portion of my return ticket – not the entire value.

    It took about three months of going back and forth – but I was able to get a full refund (I did not charge back via the credit card – which I should have.)

    I also received a lifetime complimentary membership in the Admiral’s Club, some miles and two round-trip tickets system wide in First (the class I paid for – although at first they offered domestic coach.)

  13. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/united-airlines-flight-diverted-to-happy-valley-goose-bay-twitter-erupts-1.3113036

    Canadian readers have a different perspective. Read the comments from this CBC story to see that Canadian readers view the passengers as “spoiled brats.”

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfou…upts-1.3113036

    The fact is that there are only two small motels in Goose Bay, not enough for everyone (check http://www.tripadvisor.com). However, there are some b&b, and those pax who wanted to go on their own should have been given the option to do so.

  14. why did the replacement aircraft have to go back to EWR?? was it because it had been in a foreign country and therefore couldn’t proceed directly to LHR, or had to refuel, or what?

  15. It cannot proceed to LHR because after the 5 hours delay, it would arrive in LHR during curfew.

  16. Wow, sad and a very well documented story…

    Shouldn’t it be “UA 2063 departs FOR London carrying the passengers of UA 958” on Sunday, June 14, 2:18 AM?

  17. I’ve been on flights forced to land in Newfoundland & Labrador or Nova Scotia enroute to Europe more times than I can remember. Halifax, Gander and St. John’s have all been unintentionally visited by Yours Truly. It’s happened on multiple carriers (LH/AC/VS among them, for starters). For multiple reasons (health issues on board the most frequent). It happens *every day* people. When aircraft (which are machines, sometimes with issues, carrying people, sometimes with issues) are following flightpaths over remote territory that’s what you are going to get. The airports which just happen to be under those flightpaths do the best they can when these random visitors arrive.

    But if anybody thinks that UA – and every other carrier, btw – should have people on the ground in every potential diversion airport and there should be ample minimum 4**** accommodation standing by just-in-case, they clearly don’t understand how the real world works.

  18. i don’t know any PAX who thought we should have 4* accommodations. even those in first and business understood it was midnight with no other options. we were a bit frustrated by lack of heat and blankets, as those seem to be necessities at a regular emergency airfield (one employee said it happens at least once a month). but, we were happy to be on the ground and just anxious to continue our trip.
    where it got sticky is when UAL gave no information and our original plan to continue from YYR to LHR was scrapped with a 3+ hour layover way back in EWR.

  19. Totally reasonable for pax to expect communication from United. Not really understanding the animosity towards pax. They seem grateful to be safe & alive, as anyone would in that situation, just wanted to be informed of what was going on. UA seems almost hostile toward their pax at times, it’s not very reassuring.

  20. I think @Apu just came up with United’s new slogan: “Just be thankful you reached your destination alive!”

  21. @txp

    Read enough of this site and you will see plenty of anti-American rhetoric right here. In another post, some guy wrote a full page blasting me for being American because I criticized his comment. And I’m not even American! Seems like the de jour to thing to do is go off on a hinge about Americans even when there’s nothing to go off on a hinge about.

  22. Saw some reports that attempted to shame the crew for not bunking with the pax (a la, “Funny that the company found hotel rooms for the crew…while the poor pax have to sleep rough in military barracks”)

    As if the crew would be required to camp with a bunch of disgruntled passengers. Get a brain, people.

    Kettles these days…

  23. Just think how this story could have played out if United had consistently communicated with the pax instead of leaving them in the dark (and for some, it seems, the cold): “Skilled United pilots save a damaged aircraft and all abroad from possible catastrophic situation.” It would be kudos to the airline for the expert pilots’ actions (and maybe later we’d get into whether United failed to detect any rudder problems during maintenance). Instead, the story is that United dumped a bunch of passengers on some army cots and said “we’ll get back to you at OUR earliest convenience.” Would it have really put them out so much to let passengers know when their trip would continue, and maybe make sure the heat worked? Don’t think so, and regardless it would have more than paid for itself in reversing the bad PR.

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