A United Airlines flight departed Los Angeles at 830 am PDT today and was only in the air for one hour when it was forced to divert back to Los Angeles. Passengers are reporting to us that a smoke-in-cabin event happened on the Boeing 777-200, with 370 passengers and crew aboard. The plane, registration N779UA, is currently 27 years old. We are awaiting more information about the specific problem. Fortunately, everyone is safe.
This comes, unfortunately, just two weeks after a trifecta of United Airlines Hawaii flight diversions. Then, we said it appeared that United was having bad luck in that regard. And that’s probably still true. In any event, this is getting odd. We previously looked into the US government’s database of domestic fight diversions and couldn’t see anything amiss. On the other hand, editors Rob and Jeff are heading on a 15k mile jaunt on United shortly, so this once again caught our attention.
With more than 2,500 miles of open ocean separating the islands from North America, flying to our islands means you are on some of the world’s longest overwater flights without a detour. And Hawaii represents the Pacific’s single longest stretch without a diverging point. This indicates that you could be anywhere from one to three hours from an airport. Safety takes on additional meaning for a lot of reasons.
Remember when the FAA said twin-engine aircraft would never fly to Hawaii?
Many years ago, Boeing asked the FAA to approve longer-duration ETOPS flights like those to Hawaii. The FAA director responded, “It’ll be a cold day in hell before I let twins fly long-haul over-water routes.” Since that time, four-engine jets all but vanished after these longer twin-engine Hawaii flights, such as on the Boeing 777, began. There are only a couple of 4-engine flights to Hawaii, one from Japan and the other from Korea.
So much has changed since then, but a smoke-in-cabin event when heading out into the Pacific for 5+ hours isn’t something even we veteran travelers take lightly.
More on Hawaii airline diversions.
Although sometimes necessary, like today, for technical reasons, or other times for medical or other safety reasons, aircraft diversions are always concerning and unpleasant. It happens, albeit relatively infrequently, even though we may not often consider the possibility of it.
There are no alternate routes between Hawaii and the Mainland of the United States. As a result, only the possibility of returning to Hawaii or traveling the west coast is considered.