Did United Fly to an Airport They Knew Was Closed on Saturday Night?

Saturday night’s United flight 830 from Chicago O’Hare to Buffalo was delayed an hour, according to United, “due to crew positioning.”

United C Concourse, Chicago O’Hare

Instead of taking off at 9:25pm they took off at 10:28pm. That presented a problem because Buffalo airport would be closed when the plane got there.

As the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, which runs the Buffalo airport, explained:

The early Sunday morning scheduled closing at the Buffalo International Airport was planned and communicated to all airlines and parties involved for the past several months. The closings are part of our ongoing runway improvement project that began in early June and is expected to finish in July.

United, apparently, didn’t realize that they were flying to an airport that would be closed. And when if they realized it before the plane got to Buffalo, they didn’t explain that to customers.

A passenger onboard relayed that as the flight approached Buffalo, the captain “sounded real unsure of himself, but he said we couldn’t land in Buffalo. Basically at that point he just told us the airport was closed.”

The Airbus A320 diverted to Rochester about 60 miles away. They had to wait briefly for workers to arrive back at the airport to let them of the plane.

United worked to put passengers in taxis home to Buffalo, but cabs were scarce. Passengers made it to Buffalo around 6 a.m. rather than midnight as scheduled.

There were probably 70 of us out there just standing for over an hour without a taxi at 3 o’clock in the morning in Rochester.

United, in it’s official statement, doesn’t dispute any of this. It seems they have a long way to go, operationally, to become the best airline in the world.

In the old NBC television series L.A. Law firm partner Stuart Markowitz defended a mohel who botched a bris. The plaintiff’s lawyer asks the mohel what he said after making his incision. The mohel replies, in a very Yiddish accent, “I might have said ‘oops’. United here, it seems, might have said ‘oops’…

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. Seems like I remember something else happening due to crew positioning, wasn’t there blood involved in that one?

    Sheesh, when will UA figure it out?!?!?!?

  2. Without a passenger bill of rights with specific remedies, your time remains of little consequence to the airlines. Delayed waiting for crew? So what. Landed but can’t deplane because there is no gate/person to move the jetway? Too bad. Waiting for you luggage for 45 minutes? Deal with it.

    The airlines are operationally deficient because it costs them money to improve and there is no penalty if they fail to deliver. What are you going to do? Choose another one of the Big 3?

  3. I landed once at BZR on AF after the airport had closed and the runway lights had been turned off, it was the hardest and scariest landing to date, I thought we had crashed. The pilot apologized and then unloaded the bags with the co=pilot. There was one employee left to let us in the terminal and he got his uncle to come a pick me up and take me to town as there were no taxis available.

  4. Yet, despite all these incidents people still fly United. Who is crazy then? United or the people?

  5. The captain might as well have said you all probably don’t want to go to Buffalo right? Then take a vote to see where pax want to go.

  6. At least he didn’t land on a Runway closed for repairs like Western 2605 did at Mexico City wiping out a DC-10.

  7. So, to recap:

    A) Flight was delayed
    B) United flew to nearest possible airport
    C) United got them cabs
    D) Passengers made it home, albeit delayed a fair bit.

    Alternative option that Gary seems to imply is better:

    A) United cancels flight
    B) Passengers fly out the next morning
    C) Passengers don’t get in till 9-10AM or so
    D) Thus, about a 12 hours delay

    I guess some people like to make things worse than it is at all times. Personally, if I was travelling for business I’d much rather have taken my chances and gotten in late at an alternate airport than a cancelled flight. And while it’s easy to assume that United could find crew (at a hub airport) at the last minute, everyone here knows that’s not always the case.

  8. That, and all of their recent woes, is what they get for hiring Scott Kirby.

    I honestly don’t think the man should be allowed near any airplanes.

  9. RJB – I’m pretty sure that a passenger bill of rights would not make a substantial difference to UA in this case. They are already on the hook for enough costs for a diversion like this (landing fees, fuel, cost of repositioning crew and equipment) that they had a fairly large disincentive to screwing up like this.

    I am kind of amazed that neither the captain or the dispatcher caught it though. I’m envisioning them checking ATIS, and facepalming.

  10. IMO – Which does not count for much with the big 3, if I was in operations and I knew an airport was going to close and we had flight going to arrive into it within an hour or two f it closing I would make it a priority in crew placement to make sure the plane got in and got out, before the airport closed.. Just saying….

    But because I use logic, I guess I look insane to the big 3

    In an insane society the sane appear to be insane,

  11. The
    Airport was “closed” or the ATC control tower was “closed?” Big difference.

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