Emirates Flight Misses Curfew In Tokyo, Hands Out Sleeping Bags While Passengers Loot The Lounge

On December 23, Emirates flight EK319 from Tokyo Narita to Dubai became a miserable experience for 500 passengers and crew on the Airbus A380. The plane went mechanical, and missed taking off before the airport’s midnight curfew by just a few minutes. The airline didn’t bother getting hotel rooms for passengers – or, reportedly, even crew. In fact they told passengers they couldn’t leave the airport, handed out sleeping bags, and directed premium cabin passengers to the lounge for the night.

  • The A380 pushed back around 10:35 p.m., but returned 10 minutes later. In English, the captain announced that there was a mechanical issue. The Japanese translation identified an issue with the plane’s electronics, and passengers reported a burning smell downstairs in the double decker aircraft.

  • The issue had been addressed by 11:45 p.m. – 15 minutes before the airport curfew. They taxi out, but don’t make it by midnight. A couple of minutes after the plane heads back, stating that the runway has closed for maintenance (though in Japanese, again, correct detail was provided that the plane was denied takeoff since it was 12:02 a.m.).

  • While the Emirates plane returned to the gate they did not offload anyone for more than two hours, instead performing a meal service. Around 2:30 a.m. premium passengers were disembarked. As everyone left the aircraft they were handed a sleeping bag. Premium passengers were sent to the lounge to sleep.

A reader was on the flight and says he was told that the airline couldn’t find hotel rooms, and that no one would be allowed to leave the airport.

His tone changes shortly after one passenger (who turns out to be the CEO of Citibank Japan) says he will take legal action. He makes a number of radio calls.

…We bump into the augmenting captain who says he has been told that there are no rooms for the crew either and they are equally clueless. He says Emirates thought they had ten minutes flexibility on the curfew.

He describes chaos at the boarding gate for the next day’s rescheduled 3 p.m. departure, with problems reprinting boarding passes and a lounge that looked “looted.”

This situation was handled very badly by Emirates all around.

  1. Mechanical issues happen, but the airline didn’t appear aware of how the airport’s curfew works.
  2. Passengers were kept on board the aircraft for hours even when the plane wasn’t going to be allowed to depart.
  3. Certainly there would have been hotel rooms, even if not all at the same hotel and even if not near the airport in Narita City. If Emirates was unable to handle processing hotel vouchers for disparate properties (itself a fail) they could have offered to reimburse a fixed amount for those who left to obtain rooms on their own.

It’s also unfortunate that the curfew at Narita is so strict that a plane properly scheduled to depart well within acceptable limits, that takes a delay to ensure safety, isn’t granted a grace period of just a couple of minutes.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. This is what happens when you have a government obsessed over rules. Shame on all parties involved.

  2. Curfews are in place all over the world. DCA had one; probably still does but the hours might have changed. Use to be 10pm. Many flights I’m flying in there pushing it and on short final get diverted to IAD; shuttle bus back to Reagan then wait forever to get a cab cause metro was closed. Happened on New Year’s Eve too.

  3. The robotic nature of the Japanese strikes again. Probably one of the most annoying things about their society. I’m sure they saw this as a completey reasonable alternative to just letting the plane take off at 0001.

  4. @SMR: If there are any groups close enough to be active in overthrowing the government in post-WWII Japan, the farmers of Narita are them. There are still people actively living in houses cutting off active taxiways and the government had to build them tunnels to connect each lone house to the outside world!

  5. To leave the Narita airport would require proof of 3x vaccination or negative COVID test. Probably no official staff to check after midnight? Overnighting in Narita with a free sleeping bag is staying at the Ritz when compared to overnighting in Newark!

  6. This is a result of Japanese culture – their inability to be flexible and bend the rules to adjust to different situations has led to these poor passengers being stranded in terrible conditions. Airports and airlines worldwide should have contingency plans in place for situations like this. No way they couldn’t find rooms for all these passengers at the hotel airport or nearby hotels. They just couldn’t be bothered. I hope these passengers demand compensation for how poorly everything was handled. I would have been furious by this shoddy treatment.

  7. Did some of these commenters not read the article or they didn’t understand it? If not re-read Aloha’s comment. Or the part in the article where they said there weren’t any rooms. Even the crew didn’t have a room. Surely not 500 and to find them, and get transportation to all of these hotels/motels would be a nightmare. The world has become a bunch of whiny and entitled people.

  8. Impressive response by Emirates to a questionable decision. Went through this with Cathay in HKK last year except it was the destination curfew that stopped the flight. At 5am CX invited all economy paxs into The Pier for breakfast. Looked like an upmarket refugee camp.
    Once denied takeoff I think Emirates made the best of the situation. Last scheduled departure from NRT is Finnair at 11pm so immigration likely went home at 10pm. With the last flight boarding at 10:15pm, every outlet in the airport is shuttered and deserted for the night, so giving everyone a meal was seriously smart. Sleeping bags, wow! It’s now after 2am and the terminal will wake up around 4am for the 6am depatures.

  9. The idea that there were no hotel rooms strikes me as ridiculous…even when the market is full there are often rooms to be had and it should be up to people to leave or not leave if they so choose. The reality is societies like this are not truly free and those who accept the over reach of government and rules don’t understand freedom. The so called rules that have no exceptions may have a purpose but reasonable people that make reasonable rules always have reasonable ways to address exceptions or extenuating circumstances. Those that make rules for the sake of demonstrating power or segregating people into two classes …the rule makers and the rule followers are often to blame for cases like this. While there are times where people must deal with inconvenience…this was not one of those times. This is a case of the rules for the sake of rules being applied rigidly and those rules were followed by people who adhere to the rules as a matter of course just because they are rules.

  10. That’s pretty amazing service from the airline considering the situation. If it was united, they wouldn’t have cared one bit…..sleeping bag, you’d be lucky to get ear plugs.
    Japanese are super polite. Unfortunately they are also super politely inflexible. As much as I love the food, it is also the second most unfriendly country I have visited. Australia still takes the cake in that category.

  11. NRT has very strict curfew from 14-22z, no arrivals, no departures, and the runways do close. Arrivals will be turned away on final inside the curfew period. It’s emirates fault for not having a contingency in place for this scenario. (Source: me, I plan flights in and out of narita)

  12. This happens in the US ALL THE TIME! I was stranded overnight in Phoenix; only heading to San Diego. No food, no compensation, NOTHING. I would’ve been happy for a sleeping bag! If they only told us, we could’ve gotten hotel rooms or folks co u ls’ve gone home o r even rented cars. This was Southwest Airlines!

  13. Tweeting “sub human” conditions. Sorry to say but people have lost perspective. Think of people who don’t even have a home yet somehow “sub human”. The depravity of humans is amazing…

  14. You haven’t seen air Canada and American Airlines…. At least they gave you a sleeping bag and had someone appear to tell you what is going on

  15. Two minutes past 12 midnight – a full plane on the runway, ready for take off – and then refused to be allowed to proceed with takeoff. And to think, all of the ensuing chaos could have been avoided if the airplane had of taken off….

  16. I flew for an airline and still deliver aircraft around the world Many of my flights have been in and out of Japan. There’s the good and the bad about Japan being strict on their time limits. This showed the bad side the good side is if you have a slot you know it is there for you when you come. Then again if you miss that slot you have to wait until it is available again. I’ve been stuck in Adak (at the end of the illusion Islands) and with the weather delay would not have been able to make the slot and I had to wait two weeks for that spot to open up again (where customs can meet you and deal with small aircraft coming in).
    If you just assume there are 500 rooms available near an airport you’re naive. Even having friends who run the hotels I will run into situations where there us not a room available, when I have to divert some place or alter my schedule for a mechanical reason.
    I think keeping people on airplane and feeding them was a wise choice since there is nothing open in the airport that late hour at night
    I personally think everybody is darn lucky to be able to get a sleeping bag.
    I’m a little surprised the flight crew did not realize or, at least, the people in charge of the scheduling we’re not cognizant of the fact that the airport closes at midnight. But not all airlines are aware of all the airports they go to having different schedules.
    I remember flying into Maui when United first started to come there. Their pilots were shocked to find out the tower was closed and that there were private aircraft in there pattern doing night air work. In that case it was totally on the pilots because there are notams telling you what time the airport closes

  17. @david miller that might sound like the easy answer but maybe the folks in the tower by contract get off at that time. They need ATC once in the air.

  18. @david miller clearly you’ve never had this situation happened to you. I have in the cockpit 500 feet in the air and you’re told to go around. Way less than two minutes so your time of two minutes is irrelevant but you have your opinion and some have facts.

    Happy holidays.

  19. Why wasn’t Emirates aware of this rule at a major international airport they frequent…
    Agree with others, at least there was a meal, sleeping bag and water. The American airlines (all of them) would have shrugged you off entirely on your own. You get to share a bench with someone.

  20. What kind of fine would EK have taken for ignoring the rule and just taking off. Is that even possible?

  21. Curfew at international airport?
    Traveled much before Covid-19 and after too, but never heard or expirienced curfews at airports…

  22. Curfew is the results of endless violent protests.

    Gary is very ignorant of other country’s history and society.

  23. For those not in the know, Narita airport was built with a lot of controversy and protests from the local population. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are lawsuits still going on after nearly 50 years.
    One of the compromise items was a night curfew on aircraft operations. Even a one or two minute delay past the cutoff would expose the airport administration to tremendous liability and legal exposure.
    That being said, Emirates actions are despicable. However, I expect nothing better from them. They are of the mindset “profits before anything else.” They’re also possibly at legal exposure in Japan for unlawful detainment of the passengers if anyone complains.

  24. Only a few days ago ANOTHER A380 had to divert and land at Baku, Azerbaijan ( QANTAS A380 Sydney to London via Singapore ) and it was because of a cockpit warning sensor repeatedly and intermittently warning of smoke in the cargo hold – whereas this Emirates one in Tokyo had a “burning smell below / mechanical issue”. Terrible response by Japanese Airport authorities / Emirates.

  25. My sleeping bag was 5 ft 8 in I stand 6 ft 4 the inside look to be covered with pubic hair and some dried liquid substance. Also the water in the bottle seem to have a yellowish tinge. The sandwich I got was just two pieces of bread with a brown substance smeared on them. When I unwrapped it the guy next to me gagged. As far as being entitled I had saved for several years to be able to take this trip, and somebody mentioned those with entitlement I agree with that they should not be entitled to take my money. When I complained about the sleeping bag they made me share one with a big old fat lady that hadn’t bathed in a long time. So do that person who mentions entitlement I would just be happy with some reparations.

  26. Poorly handled by Emirates most of all. Rules are in place for a reason, none of us armchair generals know the consequences of not adhering to a timeline.
    Y’all may nitpick and criticize Narita and all things Japan as always, but have no concept of why these rules are in place. The moment Emirates had those mechanical issues, they should have done a better job with contingency plans. And news flash, this kind of thing happens all over the world with flight delays. Many of those inconvenienced passengers would have been grateful for even a sleeping bag.

  27. It sounds to me like Emirates did the best they could given the rules in effect. This isn’t the US, there’s an outbound immigration checkpoint and since there are no flights why would it be manned? Thus they have no legal way to get them to a hotel. Likewise, doing the food service was sensible as there was no food to be had in the airport.

    Given Japanese inflexibility they probably realized there was no way to do better and they had that supply of sleeping bags there as a contingency plan.

  28. Interesting…it appears that most comments I have read are about the lack of hotel rooms for the crew and passengers. It seems to be that a major obstacle is being overlooked with the hotel room argument… the plane with passengers and crew on approach to a runaway for takeoff was denied because of curfew. Henceforth, if those in control of the airport did not allow the plane takeoff a few minutes after curfew how do we know that they would allow the passengers and crew to leave to go to hotels and not hand them the same excuse.

    I would like to make anyone aware that reads this I do not fly. Therefore I am not a 100% sure of the circumstances in this situation. I made this statement by reading the article which is very discouraging. I basically used logic and deductive reasoning for the above. Anyway that is where my state came from I’ve flown very little in my life when I was in the military.

    Merry Christmas

  29. Could it be that immigration wasn’t manned after hours so there was no way for passengers to leave until the morning arrivals even if hotels were available?

  30. This is most embarrassing for Emirates and they should give a thorough report on the sequence of events , mishandling passengers , causing misery and that too 25.12!

    It’s most most shameful to read this about EMIRATES – an AIRLINE THAT WE TRUST MOST AND HAVE HIGH OPINIONS ALL THE TIME !!
    Most embarrassing!

    My skywards number is 214770570
    I have used emirates and only emirates since 2000!!! – and so has the rest of my family
    We keep speaking so much about Emirates to all our friends n relations .
    Not only should the CEO of Emirates explain this BUT for the Govt of Dubai to intervene and get to the bottom of this bizarre incident

  31. Who does not know the rules? When we fly into LHR we know that we can NOT land before 6:00am or there is a $10,000 penalty. The airlines know the rules and know to circle in a holding pattern until they can land.

    These times are there for the RESIDENTS who live near the airports so they do not have 24 hrs of flights. Grants emergency lands do not count but scheduled landings and departures are NOT permitted …..

    @peter said Finnair at 11pm is the last departure that gives them 60 min to make corrections if not plan for a cancelation.

  32. No US airline would have given sleeping bags.
    But good call on sending premium pax to the lounge.
    AA has left me to sleep on the floor in DFW, ORD, and MIA even though I am Plat Pro, and had First Class tix.
    UA has done the same to me in EWR, MSP, SEA, and SIN, in Polaris Business on the last one. My wife and I got to sleep on the floor of the SQ Business Lounge, because UA no longer has First Class long hauls.
    IRROPS are fairly common, and affect me pretty much every year.

  33. Morons, different countries have different rules. If your traveling to other countries know your passengers bill of fights, plus, always be nice to airlines staffs it’s get better results. Even when your mad,

  34. @SMR: Your comment has nothing to do with the poor handling of passengers by Emirates and everything to do with your predisposition against government and is seemingly oblivious to the way in which the Japanese government policies are a direct reflection of Japanese culture.

  35. Nobody forced Emirates to schedule their departure so close to the Narita curfew time. If their flights left earlier in the evening, they would’ve had more time to deal with any possible delays. I understand lots of people here want to blame the Japanese for their “inflexibility” but the rules exist and were publicized to the airlines – anyone who doesn’t like rules or believes they should only apply when it’s convenient is free to not visit places like Japan that love rules. (I suspect lots of these “fck the rules” types don’t spend much time in Japan’s polar opposite: places where rules are highly subjective and/or don’t exist at all, because those places also have lower quality of life.)

  36. Dave – I’ll say it again (until it sinks in); airplane on the runway ready to take off, but not allowed to leave because it is TWO (2) minutes past midnight. TWO MINUTES! Asinine rule = asinine results.

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