PHOTO: A United flight had to circle for four hours after a mechanical issue before returning to its point of origin. (Photo courtesy Flickr/Masakatsu Ukon)
Ever just feel like flying for a long time with nowhere to go and nothing to do and no place to land other than back at the same airport you just left?
Yeah, us neither.
Unfortunately, for a bunch of Hawaii-bound passengers last week, that’s exactly what happened aboard a United Airlines flight.
According to travelskills.com and KTVU San Francisco, Flight 1111 last Tuesday took off from San Francisco at 9 a.m. heading for Lihue, Kauai. But something happened—a maintenance issue, a United spokesperson told KTVU—that necessitated the aircraft return to SFO.
Problem: the aircraft used for the flight was a Boeing 757. It can fly more than 3,000 miles, and the trip from San Francisco to Hawaii is approximately 2,400 miles. Some rudimentary math says the plane was carrying at least 58,000 pounds of its maximum capacity of 87,700 pounds of fuel.
That's way, way, way too much for a plane to land with.
Normally, the pilots would dump fuel over the ocean. (Don’t worry, it evaporates in the air and does not come dripping down to land or water.) In this case, however, TravelSkills noted that a Boeing 757 is unable to dump fuel. Instead, it must be burned off until reaching an appropriate weight to land.
Welcome to the flight to nowhere.
United 1111 spent the next four hours in the air, literally making circles in the sky over the Pacific Ocean as it burned enough fuel to return to SFO to land.
A United spokesperson told TravelSkills that when the plane landed back at SFO, United offered passengers drink and meal vouchers. Another plane was called into service to re-accommodate passengers, and took off at 4:30 pm and arrived in Lihue at 9 p.m.