When diversions occur anywhere in the Pacific, for any reason, we can’t help but take notice. The reason is that Hawaii sits on the longest stretch of the Pacific Ocean without diversion points. Another is that Hawaii flights have experienced a significant number of recent diversions (see below).
Southwest Hawaii diversion on New Year’s Day.
On Sunday, Southwest suffered another diversion en route from San Jose to Lihue. Flight 981 departed on time at 7 am, but something occurred after the plane reached the halfway point. For what is only described currently as mechanical reasons, the Boeing 737 MAX 8 diverted to a closer Hawaii airport, Hilo International. The distance from San Jose to Hilo is 2,333 miles, whereas San Jose to Lihue is 2,466 miles. The plane landed safely at 10:31 am and was taken out of service. There has been no word from the typical diversion resources about the nature of the problem.
UAL diverted to Pago Pago. Hawaiian Air came to help.
Just two days earlier, UAL’s flight from LA to Sydney, which had already flown half the distance beyond Honolulu towards Sydney, diverted to Pago Pago in American Samoa. The plane was only about 2500 miles from Sydney when the decision was made to abort the flight due to a potential engine oil leak. As you may know, Pago Pago is typically served by Hawaiian Airlines but not by United Airlines. In fact, Hawaiian Airlines is the only major airline serving Pago Pago International Airport.
This diversion was an urgent exception. Pago Pago passengers were accommodated overnight and we were also offered free tours, and pilots bought passengers shots and McDonalds as passengers were stranded for over 20 hours while awaiting a replacement aircraft. Passengers reported great Aloha from residents. One interesting note reported is that the runway length at Pago Pago is barely adequate to accommodate the Dreamliner.
On Twitter, one person said, “What a privilege to be part of the rescue flight to bring to SYD customers diverted to PagoPago. A huge thank you to the amazing HA ground staff that turned the situation into a memorable adventure with heart warming hospitality.”
Why are Hawaii flights so different?
Flights between the US mainland and Hawaii are among the longest overwater flights in the world. That limits a place to divert in the event of any issue, from mechanical to medical or other problems that can arise. Over 2,500 miles of open water with no airports separate the west coast and Hawaii. Therefore, your flight could sometimes be up to three hours from the nearest diversion airport. For us, at least, safety on Hawaii flights feels more critical for that reason.
ETOPS is necessary over the Pacific.
ETOPS means extended operations (or Extended range-Twin-engine-Operational-Performance-Standards). It is a series of measures (equipment, procedures, and personnel) intended to provide greater safety when flying where few, if any, diversion airports exist. These standards were developed in the 1980s and are required for all Hawaii flights. That means, among other things, planes flying to Hawaii can travel for three hours on a single engine if necessary.
Sixteen recent Hawaii flight diversions – more than we can remember.
Since summer, there have now been 16 Hawaii flight diversions, more than we have seen in such short order over the past 15 years covering Hawaii travel news.
That spate included a flight control motor failure leading to the diversion of a Hawaiian Air A330 widebody in September. It occurred on a Hawaiian Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu when the trim wheel began to move erratically after takeoff, possibly causing the plane’s nose to become unstable. The crew disengaged the autopilot and ultimately decided to return to LAX and go out of service for repairs. Hawaiian also had an inflight fume event diversion.
Then this past week, another Southwest Hawaii flight had a passenger altercation-related diversion. Other recent diversions included two more Southwest Hawaii 737MAX flight diversions, one for smoke in the cockpit and the other for unknown mechanical issues. Then, before that, within a single two days, there were three Alaska Air Hawaii flight diversions that were related.
Today, Hawaii travel options are either twin-engine planes or cruise ships.
There was a time when the FAA said that due to the length of over water without diversion, it would never allow two-engine aircraft to fly to Hawaii. And so it was back in 1980. But a lot has changed since then, and the only way to get between the US mainland and Hawaii is on two-engine planes. So unless you’ll be arriving in Hawaii by air from either Seoul or Tokyo, which both still offer four-engine jet flights, you’ll be on a twin-engine jet.
Twin-engine Hawaii flights started in 1989.
These started in 1989, with the first American Airlines twin-engine flight from Dallas to Honolulu; the rest is history. Now the most ubiquitous plane transiting the Pacific corridor between the west coast and Hawaii is the Boeing 737.
You may recall that Aloha Airlines was first when it came to flying 737s to Hawaii back in 2000.
Have you had your Hawaii vacation delayed by a flight diversion?