When will this ever end? On Friday, we wrote about the plane diversion of an American Airlines Hawaii flight that took place en route from Phoenix to Honolulu. And that came just four days after we wrote about a prior Hawaii flight diversion for the same reason. So that should be it for a while, no? Apparently not.
We just learned from multiple passengers and can confirm, based on FlightAware, that at virtually the same time the Phoenix to Honolulu flight was concluding on Friday, another American Airlines Hawaii flight diversion said to be for unruly passenger behavior, was also taking place. Here’s what happened:
AA 697 Hawaii Flight Diversion from Kauai caused by 1st class passenger.
The flight from Kauai to Phoenix departed the gate on time at 11:08 PM and was in the air at 11:23 PM, all just minutes after the other American Airlines Hawaii diversion concluded. The flight headed out into the Pacific and towards that point of no return, which occurs halfway between Hawaii and the mainland. Once that midpoint is reached, of course, the flight does not turn around.
Something occurred about 500 miles from Kauai, with the midway point being about 1,250 miles from Hawaii. The overnight flight on the Airbus A321neo narrow-body suddenly turned around and was headed back to Hawaii. At 1:18 AM on Saturday morning, barely two hours from its Lihue departure, the plane landed safely at Honolulu. There, something delayed the arrival at the gate for an additional twenty minutes.
The total time of the delay to passengers and crew before the arrival in Phoenix was about 19 hours. The flight remainded on the ground in Honolulu until Saturday at 5:47 PM and it didn’t get to its final destination until Sunday at 2:25 AM.
Jim S was on the flight and told us: “Our flight was diverted as well. AA697 Lihue to Phoenix. I hope these disruptive passengers are given Stiff jail time and fines. Their chaos causes 100’s of people great frustration and financial hardship.”
Dave, who was on the flight too reported more concerning information about the situation. “I was on flight 697 and was actually asked by one of the flight attendants to stand by to assist with this passenger, if necessary. I can say without hesitation that the gate agent in Lihue had ample indication that this particular passenger was going to be trouble, as he arrived at the gate inebriated and was already being very disruptive before ever boarding the aircraft. If a passenger is behaving that way in the terminal, one can correctly conclude that their behavior will worsen, not improve, once the flight is in the air. There is no excuse for this kind of behavior, but even less excusable is American Airlines’ complete failure to train their personnel in assessing passengers as they board, and empower them to take action.”
Jim, who was also on the flight said this: “First class, Seat 1D, 60-70 years old. Looked drunk, couldn’t stand at one point.”
A retired flight attendant, Cate, also said this: I had the good fortune to be a flight attendant for 45yrs with American Airlines from 1968-2013. I survived 3 bomb threats, sick passengers, and one death, had the great honor of flying our troops in and out of the Middle East and I was in the air on 9/11. There is not enough money to make me want to fly in these crazy times. The Flight Attendants are required and trained extensively to save your life.”
So two Hawaii diversions just since Friday. Wow! And before that, only four days separated these from the previous Hawaii flight diversion. In Friday’s other American Airlines diversion, the Boeing 787 widebody was heading in the opposite direction on a 6+ hour flight from Phoenix to Honolulu. Instead, before reaching its halfway oceanic point, it also abruptly turned back due to an unruly passenger incident. We now have reports that a guest on board was throwing human waste at passengers and crew members.
And also, in the past week, we wrote about another Honolulu flight diversion in which the flight attendant was choked!
We’re now up to nine recent Hawaii diversions for bad passenger behavior.
Are airlines acting quickly enough to quell problems?
Pacific Ocean flights are different than one to two-hour flights up and down the Pacific Coast. Any problem that occurs can result in up to three hours without the ability to divert, making these incidents even more disturbing.
We wonder about all the problems associated with these diversions, including endangering safety, upsetting and delaying passengers and crew, planes and crew no longer where they belong, crew rest timing issues, and the enormous expense and wear and tear. Are the airlines looking proactively enough at the situation to head these problems off before they start?
It also reminded us of the new app that Alaska Airlines uses to share real-time passenger information and data between flight attendants and the cockpit in-flight. Could that be of any help here? For example, when you board the plane, usually a flight attendant greets you, and there are other flight attendants in the aisle to assist with seating.
Editor Rob, who once worked for United Airlines, said, “Boarding is the ideal time to observe passenger behavior proactively, and to notify the crew of any potential problems early, which could help reduce some incidents.”
FAA chimes in on unruly passengers.
Please give us your thoughts. We have also reached out for airline input on how they address unruly passengers on Hawaii flights and others. According to the FAA, in 2022, there were 2,359 reports of unruly passengers, 823 investigations, and 553 enforcement actions. Perhaps this video from the FAA should be playing in the boarding area. Kids can say it better than adults sometimes.
Lead image courtesy of FlightAware.