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6 hours flight from Amsterdam to Amsterdam – what happened?

Posted August 21, 2019

6 hour flight is not that bad. You can watch a movie, eat, sleep and you’ll reach your destination even before you actually get bored to death. However, passengers in KLM’s flight from Amsterdam to Johannesburg were ready for an 11 hour flight and instead got a 6 hour journey to Amsterdam. Yes, you’ve read that right.

KLM’s Boeing 777 flew from Amsterdam to Amsterdam in just 6 hours. Image credit: Jeroen Stroes Aviation Photography via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

6 hour flight from Amsterdam to Amsterdam sounds like a part from a terrible comedy, but it was a completely real flight that took place on August 7th. Boeing 777 took off from Amsterdam as usual and started heading towards Johannesburg. Passengers were enjoying the serenity of the flight and probably were already planning what they will do the next day. However, around 3 hours in Boeing 777 turned around somewhere over Algeria and came back to Amsterdam. The flight lasted for a little over 6 hours and people were literally back where they started. The flight was officially cancelled.

It does sound terrible, but you’re going to be relieved to know that nothing dangerous has happened. The Boeing 777 in question had several minor technical problems. At first both of its weather radars failed and then fuel level indicator was faulty. Both of these issues are serious, but not to a point where an emergency landing would be necessary. And so it didn’t land – it made a U-turn and flew right back home. But why?

Even with its faults the plane could have easily made it to Johannesburg safely. You know it wasn’t a safety issue because it didn’t perform an unplanned landing. However, flying with faulty weather radars and fuel level indicator is not recommended. This means that after landing the airplane would have to be fixed. KLM does not have a proper technical base in Johannesburg, which means that specialists would have to be hired. Meanwhile in Amsterdam KLM has a huge supply of spare parts, mechanics, engineers and other specialists. And even though disappointed passengers had to be compensated, returning to Amsterdam proved to be a better choice economically.

And that’s the reason – airlines choose the best option based on safety and economic calculations. If it is cheaper to go to destination and have the plane repaired there, you can bet your plane is going there. And it is not the first time such thing has happened. On July 30th KLM’s Boeing 747 took off from Amsterdam towards Nairobi, but had to return due to some technical issues. This time it was over Greece when it made a U-turn, but the flight was rescheduled for the following day.

These are still rare situations and you’re highly unlikely to find yourself in a flight like that. On the other hand, passengers most likely were compensated. However, the annoyance of flying for 6 hours and getting nowhere must have been colossal.

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