SAN FRANCISCO- Passengers on the Cathay Pacific (CX) flight from Hong Kong (HKG) to San Francisco (SFO) experienced a remarkable journey on Sunday, February 4, 2024, as they did not reach their intended destination.
The incident involved Cathay Pacific flight CX870, operated by a seven-year-old Airbus A350-900 with the registration code B-LRI.
Cathay Pacific San Francisco Flight
The flight, covering a distance of 6,927 miles, was scheduled to depart from Hong Kong (HKG) at 1:25 PM and arrive in San Francisco (SFO) at 9:45 AM on the same day, with a planned duration of 12 hours and 20 minutes.
The journey proceeded routinely until the aircraft approached San Francisco, where adverse weather conditions, characterized by gusty winds, impacted airport operations.
As the jet neared San Francisco, it entered a holding pattern due to the challenging weather conditions. Remaining in the holding pattern for an extended period, the pilots eventually opted to divert to Oakland (OAK), likely due to limited fuel and stagnant weather conditions.
The aircraft touched down in Oakland at 10:05 AM local time, 20 minutes after its originally scheduled arrival time in San Francisco.
While Oakland is relatively close to San Francisco, the practicality of allowing passengers to disembark and arranging ground transportation is more intricate due to various factors:
- Oakland Airport’s immigration facility operates during specific hours, and it is uncertain whether it was accessible when the plane landed.
- Handling the process of deplaning hundreds of passengers at an airport not regularly served by the airline poses logistical challenges.
- Regardless, Cathay Pacific needed to reposition its aircraft to San Francisco for the return flight to Hong Kong.
Ultimately, the decision was made to refuel the aircraft, keep passengers on board, and then proceed to San Francisco when weather conditions improved. The plane remained on the ground for approximately four hours, taking off at 2:10 PM to complete the short 11-mile journey across the bay.
Following takeoff from Oakland, the aircraft faced an unfortunate development as San Francisco had to close again due to adverse weather conditions. While the pilots circled momentarily, recognizing the need for an alternative plan, the decision was made not to divert back to Oakland but to redirect the flight to Los Angeles (LAX).
The plane touched down in Los Angeles approximately 90 minutes after departure, landing at 3:40 PM. At this juncture, the flight lagged around six hours behind the schedule and was 337 miles away from its intended destination.
The rationale for choosing Los Angeles over returning to Oakland remains somewhat unclear:
- Was there a deterioration in conditions at Oakland, or was the immigration facility closed?
- Did the airline determine that it was more logistically feasible to redirect passengers to another Cathay Pacific station with frequent service rather than an airport not typically served by the airline? This approach would ensure the airline had its own staff available to assist passengers, and everyone could be easily rebooked on a flight to San Francisco.
Return Flight Cancelled
As anticipated, the scheduled return flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong, CX879, was ultimately canceled. At the time of this post, the A350 remains grounded in Los Angeles, reported OMAAT.
This decision is likely influenced, at least in part, by the necessity for pilot rest, as the crew would require a break before undertaking an extended flight. Cathay Pacific’s closure of pilot bases in the United States in recent years contributes to the challenge of not having reserve pilots at an outstation.
It remains uncertain whether the airline will eventually fly the aircraft back to Hong Kong without passengers or opt to fly it to San Francisco and transport passengers from the canceled flights. The logistical complexities arise not only from weather conditions but also from contractual restrictions on duty hours.
It is unclear whether Cathay Pacific’s pilot contract permits pilots to reposition the plane to San Francisco and immediately operate an ultra-long-haul flight from there.
Given the current strained relations between pilots and management at the airline, it seems unlikely that pilots would be inclined to extend any favors in this situation.
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