DC to Dubai and Tokyo via… Santiago?: Emergency Landing: United 787 Dreamliner, Denver to Tokyo… I mean Seattle

Introduction
Planning
TAM Economy Class New York JFK – Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro
Santiago
LAN Economy Class Santiago – Sao Paulo
TAM Economy Class Sao Paulo – New York JFK
United BusinessFirst Denver to Tokyo Seattle (Emergency Landing)
United BusinessFirst on the 787 Seattle to Tokyo
Cathay Pacific Regional Business Class Tokyo Narita – Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific “The Wing” Business Class Lounge Hong Kong
Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong – Dubai
Dubai, Day 1  (Traiteur Brunch, Park Hyatt Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Atlantis Palm Islands)
Dubai, Day 2 (Shark Dive at Dubai Aquarium, Burj Al Arab, 360)
Cathay Pacific Business Class Dubai – Hong Kong – Tokyo Haneda


United Airlines (UA) 139
Denver (DEN) to Tokyo-Narita (NRT)  Seattle (SEA)

Aircraft: Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner
Seat: 4E(BusinessFirst)

Tuesday, June 18
12:35PM – 3:30PM (+1 day) 4:05pm
Duration: 11:55 ~4:30

Well… that was different.

So I’ve been looking forward to my Denver – Tokyo flight on United’s brand new 787 Dreamliner for quite some time, and was hoping it would be a memorable flight.

United 787 Dreamliner in Denver

United 787 Dreamliner in Denver

Dreamliner in Denver

Dreamliner in Denver

The intended destination

The intended destination

Well, United sure did deliver.

I’m writing this blog entry neither from Denver, nor from Tokyo.  As it turns out, I’m in Seattle.

About three hours into the flight today, just after dinner service, I noticed an unusual, hard right turn and a significant decent in altitude.  I paused the movie I was watching to check out the flight map, and sure enough — we had just made a 180-degree turn just north of Vancouver Island, BC.

Flight map moments after we turned back

Flight map moments after we turned back

I inquired to a passing flight attendant, and she responded that they had just been requested to prepare the cabin for arrival, as we may be diverting to Seattle.

Sure enough, about five minutes later, the Captain came on to inform us that we were, indeed diverting to Seattle due to a concern with the oil pump in one of the engines.  Soon after that, he advised us that we would be dumping fuel to lighten the load for landing in Seattle.  Well, this provided some awesome pictures.

Dumping fuel over the Pacific from a United B787-8

Dumping fuel over the Pacific from a United B787-8

Fuel dumping

Fuel dumping

The next 45 minutes were pretty typical for a plane getting ready to land — sure, people were frustrated that they wouldn’t be making Tokyo as scheduled, but things were remarkably… normal.  Then about five minutes before landing, the Captain came back on to inform us that emergency vehicles would be meeting the plan upon landing, and that he would try to get us to the gate, but he had concerns about our brakes, which we had some overheating issues with after takeoff from Denver.

I’ve flown a lot.  I mean, a whole bunch.

I’ve never had an emergency landing until now.  I also know that when the Captain expresses concern to the cabin about the brakes, that’s not necessarily a good thing.  So I gathered my important things (passport and such) and put them in my pockets in the event that we’d have to evacuate the plane upon landing via slide.

We touched down in an extremely “normal” landing, and as we exited the runway, a flotilla of fire trucks and emergency vehicles flanked us.  I tried to get some good pictures, but sitting in the middle section of Business class limited my view.

One of the many firetrucks escorting us to the gate

One of the many firetrucks escorting us to the gate

Then, we proceeded to the gate like nothing happened.

After twenty minutes at the gate, we were informed that we would not be continuing on to Tokyo, and that we would need to deplane.  United officials then directed us to the check-in counters at SeaTac where they had an army of agents to assist us with figuring out how the hell we were getting to Tokyo.

I had a unique problem.

I’d planned to connect to Cathay Pacific in Tokyo about five hours after we landed.  This flight was to take me to Dubai via Hong Kong.  Well, since United and Cathay are in different alliances, and are in no way partners, I figured I was pretty screwed.  I called the United Premier Desk as I was walking to the ticketing line, and was informed three times that United could not “take over” my ticket since it was an award ticket purchased through American Airlines for travel on Cathay Pacific (complicated, I know).

After about 15 minutes, I finally got to the agent at the counter in Seattle.  He informed me that I could either take the 9:30pm Delta flight to Tokyo-Haneda, or I could take the 9:30 or 12:30 United flights the following morning to Tokyo-Narita — all in business class.  I let him know my situation, and he agreed to protect me on all those flights until I had details worked out with American and Cathay Pacific.

American was incredibly kind after I explained my situation to them, and they worked with Cathay to get me re-booked on my same flights a day later.  They were not able to accommodate me from Tokyo-Haneda without necessitating a 15 hour layover in Tokyo, so I opted out of that choice.

I informed Untied of my new flights, and they gladly booked me on the 9:30am flight for Wednesday morning to Tokyo-Narita, again on another 787 Dreamliner.  Just in case, I am also booked on the 12:30pm flight on a B777.  They then issued me a hotel voucher for the SeaTac Airport Hilton and several meal vouchers.

Given the situation, I think United handled the situation pretty well.  I will be missing a full day in Dubai, which is disappointing, but I’m sure that there will be further compensation coming from United because of this whole ordeal.

At the end of the day, it was certainly an experience.

Up until our problems, it truly was a wonderful flight.  In all seriousness, the flight up to the engine problems part was phenomenal.  The service was unbelievably good.  The BusinessFirst seat was great.

United 787 BusinessFirst cabin

United 787 BusinessFirst cabin

Plenty of room with all my goodies they gave me

Plenty of room in seat 4E.  The bulkhead rows 1 and 4 on the 787 have more room in footwell area

Dinner was fantastic.  I was very impressed:

Sushi Tray

Sushi Tray

 

Sushi appetizer

Sushi appetizer

Salad

Salad

Tenderloin with gnocchi and asparagus

Tenderloin with gnocchi and asparagus

Cheese Plate

Cheese Plate

Ice cream sundae tray

Ice cream sundae tray

My dessert -- just before the plane decided it wasn't going to Tokyo

My dessert — just before the plane decided it wasn’t going to Tokyo

Others around me were wondering if this was actually a United flight — it was seriously going that well.

And then everything fell apart:

  • Fuel Dump.
  • Emergency landing.
  • Unplanned night in Seattle.

Here’s to making it to Tokyo in the morning!  Time to give the Dreamliner another shot!

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