On Wednesday evening passengers on board United Airlines flight 2325 from Newark to Orange County, California were relieved to take off after three and a half hour delay. Finally on their way at 10 minutes past 8 o’clock in the evening, they had a much longer journey in store than they’d anticipated.
The plane had to make a stop at Denver airport to refuel. It made to gate B23 there at 10:48 p.m. and was one the ground for an hour and five minutes.
The Boeing 737 then took off for Los Angeles instead of Orange County, arriving at 2:18 a.m.
Final operations to Orange County airport were cancelled and passengers were bused the final 40 miles to their destination.
Orange County’s John Wayne airport does not permitted arrivals of commercial aircraft between 11:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. (and 8:00 a.m. on Sundays). So the flight’s delay and diversion meant that it couldn’t reach its destination in time. (Orange County limits are grandfathered, the FAA wouldn’t allow their rules going forward, but at least more passenger traffic may be allowed starting in 2026.)
Normally diversions for fuel happen far more frequently during winter with Airbus narrowbody aircraft (without new engines and long range capability), rather than Boeing 737s. But strong enough headwinds can make a flight long enough that it becomes necessary. Add on an airport’s operating restrictions and an inconvenience for passengers can truly compound as it did in this case.
In my view arrival bans ought to be waived for irregular operations. And in fact airlines can apply to the airport’s director to authorize aircraft movements outside of specified hours “for an emergency, mechanical, air traffic control or weather delay, which is substantially beyond the control of the air carrier” however express approval in advance is required – rather than setting criteria for automatic approvals. Violating the airport’s noise ordinance is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in county jail and a $1000 fine.
Sunday’s United Airlines 2325 from Newark to Orange County had to divert as well – that time to Phoenix – but since the original departure hadn’t been delayed they were able to gas up and make it to John Wayne airport with an hour to spare before its destination turned into a pumpkin for the night.