FlyerTalk Members Stranded in Mumbai for 43 Hours Give First-Hand Accounts

Damage of the right engine cowl of a Boeing 777-200 aircraft — similar to this one at Incheon International Airport — operated by United Airlines caused passengers to be delayed in Mumbai for 43 hours recently. Photograph by FlyerTalk member InsaneTravel. Click on the photograph for a trip report written by InsaneTravel.

“I realize they had no choice to cancel the flight but United handled it horribly”, posted FlyerTalk member frequentjohn, who was one of 275 passengers on a Boeing 777-200 aircraft which was to operate as United Airlines flight 49 from Mumbai to Newark on February 20, 2014 but was grounded due to significant damage on its right engine cowl. “It took them hours to figure out how to get everyone out of the airport so I am still in Mumbai. They had to take us back through customs to ‘cancel’ our exit from India. It took them a couple of hours to figure out how to get us out of the departure side so we missed all alternative connecting flights to Europe. Hopefully I will get out tonight on Air France through Paris. United originally re-booked me on a return flight next Tuesday getting me home Wednesday and could not understand why this was not a valid option! I had to call United to get better options. The whole thing has been one disaster after another. It’s too bad because the new BOM terminal is much nicer.”

The passengers were delayed for 43 hours at the international airport which serves Mumbai; but they were provided meals and hotel accommodations, according to a spokesperson from United Airlines. The Boeing 777-200 aircraft which was to operate as United Airlines flight 49 from Mumbai to Newark on February 28, 2014 was cancelled as the result of a mechanical issue — and because maintenance work could not be completed in time before the flight crew exceeded their “legally-permitted duty hours”, the replacement flight on March 1, 2014 was also cancelled.

FlyerTalk member skidooman — who was also scheduled to be a passenger on a Boeing 777-200 aircraft to be operated as United Airlines flight 49 from Mumbai to Newark — reported a detailed first-hand account of the incident:

“The incoming plane had an issue. Apparently, a big hole in the engine. Everyone at the gate asks what is going on. Local gate agents seem completely panicked, keep on telling everyone ‘don’t worry, they are working on the plane, the plane will eventually take off.’

“This FF knows better. And United’s computers do as well. Eventually, calls get through, the app tells the truth: the flight is canceled. Gate agents just don’t know it yet.

“OK, what do we do now? Nobody is rebooking anyone. So people start making their own calls. United Reservations puts me on Lufthansa to Munich. Great! Leaves in 2 hours. Cool. What do I do now?

“Well, the Lufthansa guy says I need to go through immigration again. Indian regulation. I also need to have someone escort me – from United – to the departure level. That is not happening. Wait 90 minutes, with other FF. We are just stuck. Lufthansa leaves by the time we are taken in charge by United Mumbai agents.

“Go to one level. Immigration authorities say no way, can’t come through here. OK, then let’s go another way. Pass security in opposite directions after negotiating for 20 minutes with CISF. Then, somehow get in arrival hall. Get the luggage.

“The chaos still reigns supreme. I try to be helpful: can I fly from Delhi tomorrow please? ‘Sure.’ Ensues discussion in Marathi. My flight is ‘confirmed, please go to the hotel sir, you can verify everything with UA reservations.’

“By the time I get to the hotel, it is 3:45AM. Get right away in touch with United Reservations. Hell ensues. The Mumbaikars never rebooked me through Delhi. Delhi flight is full anyway. They tried to book through Dubai, but failed – there is space in Dubai, but not to get TO Dubai. Earliest schedule they can get me out? Monday night. And, one agent tells me that I may need to pay money since, after all, I missed my Lufthansa flight!

“Not deterred, I contacted a few companies. There is space on Indigo to Mumbai. But international credit cards don’t work. I finally get space on Jet Airways. Sure, the flight is overbooked, but then I check in right away for my flight, and get seating.

“Call back United. Get Stephanie from SLC. Nice person who saved a miserable day. No problem: grab a seat from Dubai to IAD. And even confirm an upgrade with a Global instrument. Nice. Because by then it is 8:30AM, I am working on reserve batteries.

“Mumbai calls me at 11:50, upon me getting kicked out of my hotel room. Saying ‘I see there has been changes.’ I tell them in no uncertain terms to back off, they ‘helped’ enough already!

“Finally back in the US, I write to United to explain my ordeal with the crew in Mumbai and compliment Stephanie (as opposed to other agents which were less than helpful… what, you screwed up and I end up spending money). I also have them note that I spent some $435 to help them get me back home. I don’t get everything back, but I get an answer, and a voucher. Answer is pretty fast arriving, voucher as well.

“Voucher that I am more than happy to redeem for a flight back from India. But we’ll try Delhi this time, so far I got a better run from that place.”

This incident led skidooman to think about an interesting point: “Look. If I take my Hyundai on a trip, say from BOS->ORD, and then I have a mechanical problem on the road. I can pull over for repairs, right? The local car shop is unlikely to tell me ‘well, sir, we need the parts from your dealership.’ So, why isn’t GE, Rolls Royce and other companies not maintaining a set of parts in strategic places in the world? Mumbai isn’t exactly New York, but it is not Novossibirsk either. There are how many 777 taking off from there?”

That is a good question, skidooman.

How else do you believe that United Airlines could prevent a similar incident like this from happening in the future?

Comments (Showing 13 of 13)

  • brg at 4:04pm March 03, 2014

    A lot of it has to do with India and not UA
    They can’t change it much is my bet on it if it ever happens again.
    AI had a similar issue recently

  • kranabargar at 4:09pm March 03, 2014

    I had a similar experience last February on UA 935 from LHR to LAX. About 2 hours in flight, we turn around (smoke in the cockpit, which only occurred for a minute) and land in Shanon Ireland. Clearly no 777 mechanics available at such a small airport, so we spent the night in a Shannon hotel (which was 45 minutes from the airport – there was a hotel right at the airport – walking distance!). Mechanics flew in from LHR and worked on the plane all evening. Next day, seat assignments are all messed up, which took hours to straighten out. About 1/3 of the way down the runway the pilot jams the breaks – I knew then we were not going anywhere. Long story short – another night at the hotel (this time I just walked to the closest one right at the airport and told them to charge the room to United), replacement aircraft arrived the next day.

    skidooman is right on point – major airlines should have EFFECTIVE contingency plans for such events. Can mechanical (or other) delays on long-haul flights be avoided? We all know that isn’t feasible. However, having passengers endure 2+ days of delays and frustration is simply not acceptable. I wrote a scathing e-mail to UA’s CEO after my event and received an e-mail admitting they didn’t do the best job / would work to take corrective actions. Based on the story above with UA 48, that is 100% not true – United messed up again (big time).

  • APweb at 7:49pm March 03, 2014

    International credit cards on indigo should work…

  • chinatraderjmr at 4:12am March 04, 2014

    If there are no 777 parts or mechanics in certain cities for UA, chances are there are none for BA, SQ, EK etc either. That’s not the real problem. The real problem is many of these other airlines train their people to HELP!! Find your passengers the fastest way home regardless of carrier, routing, etc. UA employees are trained to make damn sure it does not cost the airline much, if anything to get their passengers home. It’s laughable that UA has the gall to rebook a passenger on a flight FIVE days later. Their are hundreds of options that can be used to get these people home on almost EVERY European, Gulf & Indian carriers that would work quite well…….but UA won’t spend the $$. Well, it’s not all UA’s fault. The passengers share some responsibility…..anyone who would choose UA for a 15 hour non stop is asking for abuse

  • OnePassenger at 4:14am March 04, 2014

    Definitely, all due to the Indian chaos. Please back off UA on this one!

  • PresRDC at 7:50am March 04, 2014

    Warehousing costs for spare parts are high and it is not cost effective to maintain a supply of spare parts in every station. You would be talking about 1000s of parts. That is a lot of inventory to carry, not to mention space concerns.

  • JBEagle1000G at 8:53am March 04, 2014

    Engine manufacturers would ONLY stockpile parts if there is a maintenance agreement with that airline for the engines. And only at MRO locations too. Either airline or Engine MRO sites.
    Even then, the engine companies are not responsible for the cowls. UA or Boeing are. Or whoever.

  • btjcflyer at 11:05am March 04, 2014

    As other’s have said, I don’t think this is a UA problem. Anytime you have “Indian officials”, “Indian regulations”,”Indian government” involved you can be be pretty sure that’s it’s going to be far more complicated than it needs to be. That’s why I go out of my way to avoid flying through India even though UA EWR – DEL -PBH flight would be six hours shorter than EWR -NRT-BKK -PBH.

  • duniawala at 11:15am March 04, 2014

    Indian regulations are a pain in the neck. UA should have been aware of the regulations. UA is at fault for not planning for an incident like this. Maintenance/repair issues can crop up any time. Murphy’s law. UA should have had a plan in place on how to re-enter immigration/gate change/routing etc.

  • DC777Fan at 6:38pm March 04, 2014

    For everyone saying “blame India,” point to another airline that held their passengers in India for 2+ days and you’ll have me convinced. Until then, I refuse to believe that UA couldn’t have gotten every single passenger to their destination at least a day sooner by exhausting options on other airlines.

    They chose not to, and I suspect that next time almost everyone on this flight will pay several hundred dollars more if necessary to avoid flying United, because they clearly value saving a couple bucks more than 2 days of ~300 people’s time.

  • sidneysit at 9:20pm March 04, 2014

    Because of the long-haul capability of the B777, this kind of incident would only happen again. I remember the time when Hurricane Sandy barreled through New Jersey, UA could not fly the the EWR-HKG route. The way the flight works is that the same plane that flies from EWR-HKG route (lands in the evening hours local time) would fly HKG-EWR route the day after (depart in late morning hours local time). I was stuck in Hong Kong checking with local UA agents (in Hong Kong) frequently but very limited information was available (the merger between CO and UA is not yet completed back then). The agents even asked me to call the help line at the UA side for information. Eventually I had to call international back to the UA agents in the US to get help. I believed UA managed to fly a backup plane from EWR to HKG in order to pick up passengers that were stuck in Hong Kong. The lesson learned here is that in “remote” location such as HKG that UA does not fly B777 to nearby destinations (NRT is like 4.5 hrs flight time away and has its flight schedule), it is not much of an option if there is any issue with the plane that serves the route.

  • elpiett at 11:54pm March 04, 2014

    The joys of transiting through India… It’s already quite an ordeal when there are no technical problems. And don’t get your hopes up too high for Delhi. I spent many a night on the seats in front of the transit desk, hopelessly caught up in their crazy bureaucracy…

  • BrianGrant at 9:30am March 11, 2014

    I am not as much a global traveler as a US one, but do run up miles and USED to be a United loyal flier. I am based in Seattle. A couple years ago I had enough and switched to Delta. Too many late departures, surly attitude, beat up planes, lame treatment.

    For whatever reason, Delta is a much better experience so far. Flight often leave a few minutes early, the clubs are nicer. And I don’t have to pay for the club with my Amex Platinum fee.

    So far no regrets.

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