United Airlines Boeing 777 turns back for missing flight attendant

United 777.jpgLast time it was the remarkable tale of the diversion to drop off the flight attendant. This time it’s the diversion to pick one up. Life on United’s long-haul fleet is rarely less than interesting it seems.

Here’s the flight in question. United 803 out of Washington Dulles on Saturday 10 October bound for Tokyo Narita. Unfortunately it turns up back at Dulles two and a half hours later – so why would that be?

My information is that this was due to the slightly embarrassing discovery an hour into the trip that the crew was one flight attendant short of the required minimum number. The aircraft dumped fuel and turned back to Dulles. I wonder what the passengers were told?

Anyone know anything more?

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17 Responses to United Airlines Boeing 777 turns back for missing flight attendant

  1. Will Horton October 13, 2009 at 4:33 am #

    Kieran, you have your finger on the pulse. Would love to see you on Twitter (and cross-post to the Flight Blog?) to get more regular updates on the stories only you have.

  2. Ben October 13, 2009 at 11:30 pm #


    Why wouldn’t the plane divert into ORD, DEN, or SFO and pick up a different flight attendant instead? It seems like this would be a better option. I have flown JFK to Tokyo before – a 14 hour flight. I can’t imagine tacking on an extra five hours….

  3. Jake deVal October 15, 2009 at 1:43 am #


    I would likely plan to fly North from Dulles to Tokyo making Dulles practically the closest to return to.

  4. Dean October 15, 2009 at 4:51 pm #

    The FAA should grant a waiver in such instances rather than mandate this environmental catastrophe.

  5. hiflyer October 18, 2009 at 1:25 pm #

    you have it completely wrong….delayed day 1 ex iad for mtc..departed late…returned for mtc….overnight delay due crew time…recrewed at gate day 2 for flt att.

  6. rhiggs October 19, 2009 at 7:32 pm #

    In either case, it’s not as embarrassing as an incident several years ago (American Airlines, I believe) where they departed with NO flight attendants onboard. Their mistake was discovered when a passenger knocked on the cockpit door (pre-911) to ask why there was no cabin service.

  7. Lance October 19, 2009 at 10:21 pm #

    American left w/o ANY flight attendants? Highly unlikely. Who would close the door to the airplane?

  8. Ahmad Dan-Hamidu October 22, 2009 at 4:14 pm #

    This is a major “ouch” to the profit that the flight should have realised (all that fuel thrown out to bring the 777′s landing weight down)…uuuhhhh!

    They should start doing crew head counts prior to departure…the way its done in school:

    Capt: F.O. (1st Officer)?
    1st Officer: Here.

    Capt: M-D-C (Maitre-de-cabin)?
    M-D-C: Here.

    Capt: Purser?
    Purser: Here.

    …etc, etc.

  9. robert wright October 22, 2009 at 10:33 pm #

    The misssing flight Attendant is critical situation, especially during an emergency landing, or crash.

  10. cth October 23, 2009 at 5:14 pm #

    I was on that flight. It was my worst experience ever. There were many more embarrassing stories before and after that flight.

    On October 10th, we were boarded on one plane, but due to mechanical error, we had to switch plane. Then more mechanical error, and the crew have to be switch also due to crew working hours.

    While I am eating my dinner, the pilot announce we had to turn without giving any reason. I later found out that it is one crew missing from the flight attendant.

    When we returned to Dulles, everyone left the airport without going through the immigration? We left through a different gate. All non-US citizen is not accounted for one night.

    The next day, the reservation desk was surprised by delayed flight. One of the reservation desk person doesn’t know what to do with us. Luckily it gets resolved.

    we were asked to board on gate D4, but at the last minute before boarding, we were ask to go to gate C3. Wrong plane or mechanical problem? Don’t know.

    We have to wait at C3 for the plane to be cleaned. They have all nights to get a plane ready for us, and they didn’t. I just wish they can get their act together. It seems like they have no real coordinator.

  11. Micheal jhon October 23, 2009 at 7:26 pm #

    How is it possible, before every plane takes off there are number of announcements, cabin door check, without FAs how the plane took off, this is too much, please remember again

  12. JMH October 25, 2009 at 1:07 am #

    I was on that flight. The passengers were told nothing.

  13. JMH October 25, 2009 at 1:13 am #

    See cth’s comments. Those are correct. I didn’t trust United, so once it was clear we were back at Dulles for the night, I rebooked my own next day travel onward from Tokyo.

  14. micheal holding October 25, 2009 at 9:42 am #

    Come on, how is it possible, what about the safty instruction, demo and door lock, automatic and cross check.

  15. Mutuelle santé September 22, 2010 at 9:14 am #

    I guessed that if it was a passenger, they would have told them to book another ticket. It is also may be that there will be a fine by aviation law , that they prefered to do a turn back to have one flight attendant. Very funny indeed.

  16. Kieran Daly April 7, 2013 at 11:32 pm #

    The FlightAware track seems to favour Jake’s theory.

  17. Kieran Daly April 7, 2013 at 11:32 pm #

    Interesting to hear from you, but my information is otherwise.

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