Passengers aboard a United Airlines flight from Newark, New Jersey, to Hong Kong endured a hellish weekend of travel when their plane was grounded for more than 18 hours at a frigid Canadian airport.
Hours after taking off from Newark Liberty International Airport around 3 p.m. EST Saturday, United Flight 179 was diverted to Goose Bay Airport in Canada’s northeastern province of Newfoundland and Labrador due to a medical emergency.
Medical personnel met the aircraft at the gate, and the distressed passenger was taken to a hospital. As crew members prepared to depart, they noticed a mechanical issue with one of the plane’s doors.
And so began a most unwelcome wait for everyone aboard.
Passengers were not allowed to exit the aircraft because the airport did not have customs officers staffed overnight, according to a statement issued by United. An alternative aircraft was sent to Goose Bay to bring customers back to Newark, but it didn’t arrive until roughly 14 hours later.
Temperatures outside the aircraft dropped below zero overnight Saturday into Sunday, and food supplies were running low for the 250 passengers and 15 crew members aboard the plane.
“Please help us,” professional wrestler Sonjay Dutt, who was a passenger, tweeted from Goose Bay early Sunday morning. “This is an emergency @united. People are not doing well. Running low on food.”
Dutt tweeted hours later that Goose Bay officials provided passengers with water and snacks from a Canadian fast-food chain, Tim Hortons, and that some passengers were taken to a customs area so they could “stretch their legs.” A United spokesperson confirmed passengers were allowed off the plane once customs officials arrived.
Mechanical crews attempted to fix the door multiple times, according to several passengers who live-tweeted their experiences.
Passengers were eventually taken to another plane midafternoon Sunday to return to Newark. The flight landed at the New Jersey airport about 6 p.m. EST Sunday ― more than 24 hours after the saga began.
“The entire way they have treated us from troubleshooting, communicating and actual treatment (or lack of) by most of the flight attendants has been not only unprofessional, but downright DISGUSTING,” passenger Cherie Martorana Neve wrote in a Facebook post about noon Sunday. “This is not an airline. It’s more like a prison.”
After arriving in Newark, United offered passengers reimbursement, compensation, hotel accommodations and meals, according to a statement issued by the airline.
“We apologized to our customers for this experience,” United said in a statement. “Our crew and operations did everything possible to assist customers during the delay.”
This article has been updated with comment from United.