Storm-induced "ghost" flights across the Atlantic


BA183 thought about trying for JFK; it returned to London and eventually cancelled.
BA183 thought about trying for JFK; it returned to London and eventually cancelled.

Yesterday’s blizzard on the East coast created plenty of problems for airlines. With more than 4,000 flights cancelled on Thursday and another 1,200+ so far on Friday things are nasty all around. It also meant plenty of diversions for aircraft initially headed to Boston, JFK or Newark. As the afternoon (and JFK closure) rolled on the ramps at Washington-Dulles (Emirates, Aeroflot, Etihad, & more), Philadelphia, BWI, O’Hare and others started to see visitors. Philly ultimately had to decline additional diversions as it filled up. A Lufthansa flight went as far as Atlanta later in the evening to find a suitable diversion location.

Smaller airports got in on the fun, too. Stewart Airport in Newburgh, NY typically sees a handful of commercial flights daily, including a couple Norwegian 737 MAX8 flights to Europe. On Thursday it was one of the first diversion recipients with the Singapore Airlines A380 touching down.

Those passengers had a 4 hour wait to deplane and the aircraft (9V-SKL) is still in Newburgh this morning as best I can tell.

Albany saw a Norwegian 787-9 from London come in from London. In many cases passengers hit with the diversions were carried by bus to New York City to complete their journey.

Norwegian tried to make the JFK arrival work on the early flight in from Gatwick; eventually it landed at Albany
Norwegian tried to make the JFK arrival work on the early flight in from Gatwick; eventually it landed at Albany

Two other Norwegian 787s also diverted to Stewart, delivering passengers from Copenhagen and Stockholm to New York state, though not to the intended airport.



And then there were the flights that didn’t complete the trip. At least five aircraft began their journey across the Atlantic Ocean late Thursday, only to turn around and return to their point of origin. Much like the now infamous ANA flight from LA to LA a couple weeks ago these passengers spent a few hours in the air only to find themselves back at the point of origin. The few I can see include:

Royal Air Maroc from Casablanca

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic from London

BA183 thought about trying for JFK; it returned to London and eventually cancelled.
BA183 thought about trying for JFK; it returned to London and eventually cancelled.

Norwegian from Paris

Iberia from Madrid



As for the Norwegian 787s that diverted to Stewart/Newburgh, they didn’t bother waiting in the US for their next journey. It appears that the airline got the crew up to SWF rather than to JFK and operated the return flights to Copenhagen and Stockholm empty. Norwegian’s fleet is stretched thin on the best of days and taking multiple 787s out of service for a couple days would wreak havoc on operations. Getting these back into the rotation quickly is key to the airline getting back on track as quickly as possible.

One of a couple Norwegian 787s that flew across the Atlantic empty on Thursday night.
One of a couple Norwegian 787s that flew across the Atlantic empty on Thursday night.

Update:

Also, I talked about this stuff with the guys from FR24.com later on Friday. Give it a listen/watch.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

6 Comments

  1. So why did this storm have so many unusual diversions and aborted flights? Surely there was notice of the general weather pattern in time for European departures to change their mind. Or did it intensify or change track much more quickly than expected?

  2. I happened to see EK203 while it was in flight 05 Jan – definitely another ghost flight. It turned around near Ukraine, circled around DXB and then headed westward for a half hour or so before returning to DXB. I tracked it live for over an hour. Funny thing – it disappeared from the flightradar24 log soon after. Why would its flight be scrubbed from the record? The 06 Jan flight was canceled as well, but that seems even more weird – now two A380s of displaced passengers.

    1. Interesting.

      We’re seeing a few more on Saturday morning, too. LH400, LH410 and OS87 all went back because T1 is such a disaster (already too small for the number of flights it has scheduled) that the airport finally insisted to the airlines that there wouldn’t be time/space to unload if they arrived today. Such a mess.

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