Passengers onboard an American Airlines flight from Philadelphia to London Heathrow on Thursday night thought they were about to land at one of the city’s other airports following a midflight medical emergency but then discovered they had actually landed in Canada after touching down.
Diane Keane, a passenger onboard American Airlines flight AA728, describes in a TikTok video how she was “kidnapped” by the airline after the passengers were left stranded in Gander, Newfoundland, for more than 10 hours after the medical diversion.
Flight AA728 was meant to have departed Philadelphia at around 11 pm on Thursday for what should have been the relatively short hop across the Atlantic to London, but the aircraft didn’t end up taking off until after 2 am due to an unrelated issue, reports View from the Wing.
After takeoff, many of the passengers were understandably exhausted and settled in for the red eye to London, only to be woken by an announcement by the Captain telling them that they were close to landing but that they had diverted from their original destination of London Heathrow because one of the passengers had been taken sick.
Diane says she heard the pilot announce an airport name beginning with the letter ‘G’ but didn’t catch the full name and assumed it was another airport in the London area.
It was only after they landed and received messages on their cellphones welcoming them to Canada that they realized they were a long way from their intended destination.
Diane hit out at the treatment they received at Gander Airport – which she described as resembling a school auditorium – saying it took several hours before passengers were even given bottles of water.
Although Diane didn’t see the passenger who suffered the medical emergency, she claims other passengers said they looked like they had suffered a panic attack and were smiling as they were led off the aircraft by paramedics.
Unfortunately for Diane and the other passengers, it wasn’t simply a case of offloading the unwell passenger and continuing on to London. Along with the delay in Philadephia and the diversion midway across the Atlantic, the crew had timed out, and everyone was effectively stranded in Canada.
The aircraft and passengers were forced to sit on the ground for more than 10 hours before new crew members could rescue them, but it wasn’t to get them to London. Instead, the aircraft returned straight back to Philadephia, landing Diane and the other passengers back exactly where they began their journey nearly 21 hours later.
Airlines have different thresholds for deciding to divert a transatlantic flight and the decision always rests ultimately with the Commander, although in the case of a medical emergency, the crew will normally have access to expert advice from a team of doctors on the ground.
There are several specialist aeromedical companies providing this kind of service to airlines, with doctors from various specialities available 24 hours a day to provide advice and support and advise whether they think a diversion is necessary.
The aim is not to divert, and in many cases, the medical emergency can be managed onboard, and the patient is stabilized until the plane reaches its intended destination.
When a diversion is deemed necessary, however, ground support teams will decide which airport is best equipped to handle the aircraft and the specific medical emergency.
In this incident, it looks like the pilots opted to divert back to the closest available airport before getting too far into the transatlantic crossing, where diversion options are few and very far between.
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.