Passengers onboard what should have been a short flight from Tokyo to the Japanese port city of Fukuoka ended up on a nearly six-hour flight to nowhere after the destination airport closed to commercial flights just 10 minutes before they were due to land.
The frustrating experience unfolded on Sunday, 19th February, when Japan Airlines flight JL331 was delayed by nearly two hours due to a last minute aircraft swap at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport.
After getting all 335 passengers onboard the new aircraft, the crew did their best to make up for lost time and departed Tokyo at around 8:18 pm for what should have been an otherwise routine 90 minute flight to Japan’s sixth largest city.
But as the Airbus A350-900 jet approached Fukuoka Airport, it soon became clear that the pilots wouldn’t be able to land the aircraft in time to meet a strict 10 pm curfew.
Airport officials say they allow planes to land after the curfew if the delay was unavoidable but they didn’t class a last-minute aircraft swap as good enough reason to disturb local residents.
So, even though it was estimated that the flight would be late by just 10 minutes, there was no alternative but to divert to another airport willing to accommodate them.
The pilots initially managed to get landing permission in nearby Kitakyushu but the airline couldn’t arrange busses and hotels to accommodate the passengers there so the crew were ordered to turn back and return to Tokyo.
By this point, however, the aircraft didn’t have enough fuel left to make it all the way to Haneda so the plane first had to divert to Osaka, where it could be refuelled before continuing onto Tokyo.
The flight arrived back where it started around five and a half hours after it first departed at 2:40 am. At this point, the passengers were finally allowed off the plane, and they were driven to nearby hotels before being rebooked on alternative flights to Fukuoka.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.