A perfect storm of bad weather, workers' rights and immigration issues left over 250 passengers trapped on board a Cathay Pacific flight for well over a day.
The incident dates back to March 30 when Cathay Pacific Flight CX831 left New York City's John F. Kennedy International Airport for Hong Kong. The flight was expected to last 15 to 16 hours and took off without issue but ran into problems as it approached Hong Kong International Airport.
The surrounding area was in the midst of a severe weather storm which included hail storms, high winds and lightning and meant a safe landing was nearly impossible, NBC News reports.
As a result, the plane circled in hopes the weather would clear.
But the storm did not let up and the flight was forced to make an unexpected landing around 11 p.m. local time in the southern city of Zhuhai in China, nearly 65 km away from their intended destination.
But the 256 passengers still had more obstacles to overcome.
The airport in Zhuhai lacked immigration and customs officials to process the travellers from the U.S. and as a result no one, save for the crew, was allowed to disembark during the 16-hour layover, Cathy Pacific told News.com
"When I heard about this I immediately felt sympathy for the passengers and the crew," said Julie Jarratt, a spokesperson for Cathay Pacific, "This was certainly a rare circumstance and one we want to avoid if at all possible."
By now, the crew aboard the Boeing 777 was mandated to stop working according to the airline's labour laws. A temporary customs office was set up to process the crew members who eventually flew out of the airport early afternoon the next day. Meanwhile passengers had to wait for a replacement crew to come in via a ferry from Hong Kong, the Independent reports.
Despite being trapped on board the plane, passengers said the airport did what it could to alleviate the situation.
"The folks at the airport fuelled our plane a couple times and brought over water and food so we could use the bathrooms. We had food and the heating and AC were always on," one passenger told NBC. "All of that helped, but we still couldn't go anywhere."
After the new crew had arrived, the plane took off around 2 p.m. local time and arrived in Hong Kong roughly an hour later. There, passengers were handed an apology from the airline along with monetary compensation.
But for some passengers, like Luke Hopewell, who blogged about his experience, say the experience has left him unsure if he'll fly again any time soon.
"We walked off the plane and Cathay staff were there handing out letters of apology with $HK1000 ($A120) attached for our trouble. I grabbed my updated boarding pass for the flight back to Sydney and spent the next few hours deciding whether or not I could get back on a 777. I’m still wondering that now after the flight."
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