2-hour flight becomes 16-hour nightmare in Japan

PHOTO: A Japan Airlines flight was denied landing at Fukuoka Airport. (via Japan Guide)

Sometimes a few minutes makes all the difference. After a delayed takeoff, a 2-hour flight across Japan became a 16-hour nightmare when it was denied permission to land because it was 10 minutes late. The 335 passengers aboard Japan Airlines (JAL) flight JL 331 were caught in limbo between their departure from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport and Fukuoka International Airport who rejected their request to land.

Air traffic controllers refused to bend the rules for the JAL flight which was arriving just 10 minutes after the airport’s 10pm cutoff time each night for flights. The late-night landing ban was implemented to avoid noisy landings disturbing residents of the neighbourhoods around the airport.

So, the JAL flight found itself flying through the sky with nowhere to land. The flight was scheduled to depart Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport at 6.30pm local time on Feb 19 and land at Fukuoka at 8.30pm on the same day. However, the plane was delayed for 90 minutes due to a plane switch, and it eventually took off at 8.18pm, according to flight tracking websites.

Unfortunately, this meant a touchdown time just after 10pm. Officials declared that, since the flight was delayed due to a plane switch, it was not an unavoidable cause like congestion or weather and an exception to the landing time rule could not be made.

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To add insult to injury, it was reported that other planes were allowed to land after the 10pm cutoff time that night after being delayed due to strong winds. Only the Japan Airlines flight was denied landing.

The flight had to circle in the air until it found an airport that would allow it to land. The aircraft attempted to land at an airport in Kitakyushu, but it was not allowed to do so due to the lack of buses to transport the passengers to a hotel.

The plane then made a stop at Kansai Airport at 11pm to refuel and undergo maintenance work. The passengers on board the flight were unable to disembark due to the inability to arrange hotels for them.

After nearly 3 hours of sitting on the plane, it finally departed at 1.45am and landed back at Haneda where it started at about 2.50am. There they were finally accommodated in a hotel arranged by the airline.

The next morning, the passengers were loaded back on a plane and sent to Fukuoka International Airport at 10.20am. The nightmare finally came to a close, 16 hours after the journey began.

JAL is currently investigating why the take-off was delayed. They issued an apology and said that they paid for the passengers’ hotel accommodation and taxi fares.

“We apologise for the inconvenience and burden caused by not being able to take passengers to Fukuoka as scheduled and the long flight time.”

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Neill Fronde

Neill is a journalist from the United States with 10+ years broadcasting experience and national news and magazine publications. He graduated with a degree in journalism and communications from the University of California and has been living in Thailand since 2014.

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