Our flight from San Francisco to Sydney made the news! We were supposed to arrive in Sydney around 10:30am but actually touched down some time around 6:30pm.
About half an hour before we were due to land, the pilot made an announcement saying that there was only one runway open due to debris. He said that there was a backlog of planes trying to land and the earliest they could slot us in was 50 minutes from the originally scheduled landing but that the plane didn’t have enough fuel to keep circling. So he diverted us to Canberra to refuel. James and I figured it would be tight, but we would still have enough time to make our two hour connection.
We all sat there for an hour, and then another hour before they told us what was going on. Occasionally we’d get these stressed-sounding updates that they were trying to figure everything out and they would let us know what was going on as soon as possible.
It turned out that the pilots and flight crew had exceeded the hours they were legally allowed to work so the airline would have to bring in additional crew. But they were all in Sydney so they would have to be flown into Canberra so their ETA was in 5 hours. And we weren’t allowed out of the (increasingly hot and stuffy) plane because we hadn’t been processed by customs. And the airport didn’t have enough staff on hand to process us so we’d just have to sit and wait until the government decided to allow us out.
The flight attendants cooled down the plane by cracking open the emergency doors.
At the back:
And at the exit row right where we were sitting:
James was sad that they didn’t allow him to open the door. I was so glad we’d forked out for the extra legroom seats (even though they ended up being a mixed blessing because they were right near the toilets so a lot of people stood there to wait or stretch their legs).
For us, the most stressful part was not being able to contact our family to let them know what was going on. The guy sitting next to us was very nice and let us use his roaming to call James’ dad, and several hours later we were also able to use one of the customs guys’ phones. Then after that, the main worry was how we were going to get to Melbourne now that we’d missed our original connection – we did have a wedding to get to the next day, after all! The flight attendants told us there was a team on the ground who would be re-booking connections for everyone, so that was a relief.
After a couple of hours of not knowing what was going on, people were starting to get irritable, not to mention hungry/thirsty and the toilets were gradually failing. The crew brought us some crackers and water (donated by Qantas) which was nice. For the next hour we would get updates about how they were trying to negotiate with the airport to allow everyone outside of the plane but that it was difficult because the Ukranian President and the Australian Prime Minister were in Canberra (and we were like “whaaat?! The Australian Prime Minister is always in Canberra!”).
Finally (after 3+ hours in the plane) we were allowed out! And it was glorious.
Under the watchful eyes of customs and the federal police we frolicked around in our pen.
We sat in the sun to have our lunch and then headed back in to use the rapidly deteriorating toilets. One of the toilets near us had a clogged sink and the other was no longer flushing.
Obviously it was a massive inconvenience but once we knew what was happening (and that our connections were taken care of) it became much more bearable. The crew were trying as hard as they could, and you could tell that everyone was making the best of a bad situation. It was kind of funny because a lot of the crew were also taking photos of us and the open emergency doors, so it was just as much a novelty for them as it was for us!
I talked to one of the flight attendants who said that two hours after we left San Francisco the airport had cancelled all flights because of the storm, so they had been talking among themselves and were like “aren’t we lucky to be on this flight!”
When we went back in they had emptied the toilets and everything was back to normal, just in time for the new crew to arrive. It was a bit sad when our original crew was swapped out. They were applauded off the plane because they were awesome even though they must have been exhausted.
When we finally landed in Sydney, people with connections were directed to a new line where we got tickets for our next flight. We were pretty much rubber-stamped through customs (not sure if that’s normal or if they gave us a break out of pity) and waited to board. We ended up getting another exit row seat on the flight to Melbourne which was nice!
James’ parents picked us up from the airport – and as it turned out we needn’t have worried because they knew about the delay. Once we had an internet connection we read some reassuring updates about the cats from our house-sitter, and felt much better – especially the next day, when United emailed and offered us $500 each to apologise for the inconvenience.
All in all it was a really long day, but no harm done as we arrived 10 hours late, but well in time to see Ivanna get married! =)