Double Diversion Drama: United Airlines Makes Two Unexpected Stops In Charlotte And Orlando

United Airlines flies non-stop every day from Chicago to San Juan, and on Saturdays they have a second flight. It’s a four and a half hour flight on a Boeing 737 MAX 9 that departs just before 9 a.m. and arrives a little before 3 p.m. But on Friday the flight became a little more…. complicated.

When passengers on United Airlines 1996 first landed they weren’t in Puerto Rico. They were in Charlotte. One of the travelers on board suffered a medical emergency and the airline landed as quickly as they could. Everyone waited on board while that was addressed, and then they took off again… for Orlando.

United says this was planned and the double diversion was needed to pick up a new crew, so that the original one didn’t time out. So everyone had to land a second time enroute to San Juan.

According to an airline spokesperson,

On Friday, July 5, United Flight 1996 from Chicago to San Juan diverted to Charlotte to address a medical issue with a passenger. The flight then stopped in Orlando where a new crew was available to replace the current crew, who had worked the maximum number of hours allowed by the FAA. The flight then continued to San Juan that evening.

Boeing 737 MAX 9, credit: United

Passengers eventually made it to Puerto Rico over five hours late.

My guess here is that the new crew may have been needed to work the return flight, rather then to continue the current one. United 2088 back to Chicago was delayed six hours and 18 minutes in total.

The flight wasn’t cancelled, which means that the passengers leaving Puerto Rico didn’t get stuck. That’s good planning, even if their flight was delayed longer because of the second diversion. United wouldn’t likely have had additional crew in San Juan.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Consequence of a medical diversion. I hope the potential negative social media attention incidents like this generate do not begin to influence the overriding need to divert for emergency care. I don’t want airlines putting self serving operational decisions over life threatening customer emergencies.

  2. Impressive flight planning by UA. Having been through a host of delays on AA recently, I highly doubt they would have been able to manage a similar situation without canceling flights and stranding pax.

  3. Gary,
    The original pilots wouldn’t have been scheduled to work the return flight. There was a crew coming off a layover in SJU. ORD-SJU-ORD is over 9 hours of flight time. That wouldn’t be legal for an unaugmented flight.

  4. UA very likely did not have a 737 crew available in CLT but did in MCO, which I believe is now a 737 crew base.

    They handled the medical diversion well which could not have been expected and kept the flight moving which could have been halted in CLT if the crew knew it could not complete the flight to SJU w/o going over duty limits

  5. Do the first-class passengers on this flight receive two bonus pre-departure beverages for the extra departures in Charlotte and Orlando?

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