Sayonara Narita Airport

September 7, 2009

in Delay/Cancellation Stories

Several years ago, I was on a business trip to Asia, which concluded with a 13-hour flight from Narita Airport outside Tokyo, to San Francisco. The plane was scheduled to leave at noon, and the United flight was only about one-third full, mostly with fellow Americans.

After we had all gotten settled in our seats, the pilot came on the intercom, and told us that there would be slight delay, as an electrical problem with one of the engines was being dealt with by the ground crew. About a half-hour later, he came back on, and told us that we would be “about another half hour” before departure.

Well, to make a long story short, the plane sat there on the tarmac, the entire rest of the day, while a crew of about 20 technicians swarmed all over the faulty engine. We had already moved away from the gate, so they couldn’t let us deplane and go back inside the terminal, and the flight attendants told us that they weren’t allowed to serve us any meals or drinks, until the plane was in the air.

Finally, at about 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon, they relented and started breaking out the food and drinks. When we finally took off, at 11:29 that night, we had been sitting in that plane for almost 12 hours!

As you may remember, Narita Airport was the one that all the protests were over, back in the 70’s when it was being built. As a compromise to all the farmers in the area, the airport is shut down tight from 11:30 at night, until 5:30 in the A.M. As we climbed into the sky, I looked out my window, and watched the runway lights blink off – as disconcerting a sight as I have ever beheld, because it meant that, even in an emergency, we could not return to that airport!

The final straw came about two hours later, when 36,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean, in the middle of the night, the cabin lights began flashing and the sound system started buzzing with an electrical pulsing sound. Even the flight attendants looked worried, and when I asked for a double Jack Daniels (if I’m going down into that water, I need to be drunk), they didn’t even hesitate.

Finally, we arrived at San Francisco International, a total of 25 hours after we had actually boarded the plane. I have to say, that despite all the negative things I have heard about flight attendants, the ones on this flight were as accommodating as they could be under the circumstances. Technically, they could have been fired, as well as criminally charged, for serving us booze while the plane was still on the ground!

While I still fly United from time to time, I would not put up with such a delay again, even if I had to summon the legal authorities and report that I was being kidnapped!


{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

saw September 8, 2009 at 3:30 am

Ok… that tops my 7 1/2 hour JetBlue tarmac-camping episode at ORD. I'm sure it was helpful that the plane was only 1/2 full, instead of packed. At least that way, you didn't run out of water or take the bathrooms out of order.

I have lots of complaints with United though – on the whole, one of the two worst airlines I've ever flown (2nd only to USAir). But the problems I have are rarely flight-attendant related – I've always found them to be nice (9 times out of 10).


Demotage September 8, 2009 at 3:52 pm

That is pretty awful, especially with 13 more hours to sit on the plane once airborne. I definitely think this qualifies as a flight from hell.

It also beats my five hours on the Tarmac At ORD United story, although the reason for that delay was so ludicrous that I'm still going to send in a story on it.


Waxjob September 14, 2009 at 2:34 pm

Your letter soudsn like EVERY flight I have ever had on United. My worst was UA891 from SNG to IAD via NRT and LAX. After that flight, I refuse to fly UA ever again.

Side note, Every flight I have ever had out of Narita has been delayed on the plane due to technical issues. I got to admit, NRT to SFO should not take 14 hours unless, you're stopping in Alaska for fuel. (I do the IAD-SFO-NRT four times a year and from IAD it's only 13 hours with a connection, but then again, if it is UA that's no surprise.

Try JAL or ANA next time. Hell, NW is even better.

I wouldn't call your letter a nightmare flight, but rather an every day occurrence with UA.


saw September 16, 2009 at 3:27 am

I think the world's in agreement here… United does … truly truly… SUCK.


Jeremy October 19, 2009 at 8:00 pm

I will tell you why United sucks there CEO Glenn Tiltion. It sickins me just saying his name. He has basicly killed United and I'm Shocked the Gov. has not made a bale out bill for the airlines. If they were to the workes of United would be so much happer. Jeremy McMillen 1K on United


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