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Hawaii Flight Diversion Double-Whammy: Depressurization Mid-Pacific and Tail-Strike

by Staff

Two more incidents to report today that occurred on recent Hawaii flights. If you were on any of these flights, let us know. We flew one of the routes (Dulles to Honolulu) in December. These two issues are reported by FlightAware and by Aviation Herald.

Kahului Maui Airport.

Loss of cabin pressure on Maui to San Francisco flight.

The incident occurred last Friday, February 16, 2024 on UA1639. This was on the red-eye flight that departed Maui at 11:33 p.m. The plane was over the Pacific at 34,000 feet, about 240 miles northeast of Honolulu when loss of cabin pressure occurred on the 16-year-old Boeing 737-800.

Just over two hours after departure, the plane returned safely to Hawaii, this time to Honolulu Airport. When the issue occurred, it resulted in the following:

1) The passenger oxygen masks were deployed.

2) The plane descended rapidly at a rate of about 3,000 feet per minute to a safe-to-fly not pressurized altitude of 10,000 feet.

3) A flight diversion to Honolulu was performed.

4) The remainder of the flight was canceled and passengers were otherwise accommodated.

5) The aircraft remained in Honolulu until Monday, February 19, when a special flight returned the aircraft to San Francisco. That flight appeared to operate normally and was at a typical flight altitude.

The loss of cabin pressure on UA Flight 1639 was a serious event.

It was handled with prompt action by the United flight crew to ensure the well-being of everyone on board. Kudos to United Airlines.

Decompression or loss of cabin pressure leads to a decrease in oxygen available to passengers and crew. This can result from various things, including a malfunction in the plane pressurization system or any breach in the aircraft’s structure, among other things.

When loss of cabin pressure occurs, the risk potentials include hypoxia, barotrauma, and hypothermia. To prevent these issues, airlines may fly at an altitude of just 10,000 feet until reaching their destination.

We were informed by an airline pilot friend recently, that planes have enough fuel to reach the intended destination fly while flying at that low altitude, even though doing so consumes significantly more fuel.

Seatback entertainment on United Premium Plus, premium economy to Hawaii.Seatback entertainment on United Premium Plus, premium economy to Hawaii.
United Airlines 767-400.

Tail strike on flight from Washington DC to Honolulu.

A United Airlines Boeing 767-400, operating Flight 345, also had an incident. This time it was a tail strike on departure from Dulles that also occurred last week. That incident prevented the 22-year-old plane from continuing to Hawaii. The FAA confirmed the incident, saying that “Aircraft encountered a tail strike during departure and returned to IAD.”

That plane’s tail hit the runway during takeoff. The crew still climbed to 28,000 feet, but subsequently returned to Dulles about an hour after departure.

United was able to quickly replace the aircraft with another 767-400. In total, the flight was delayed about six hours. After inspection, the aircraft that had the tail strike was also returned to service later that day.

In 2023, a software problem resulted in tail strikes on two Alaska Airlines Hawaii flights. Subsequently, the carrier initiated a ground stop until the issue was resolved. That took only 22 minutes.

Airline tail strikes are an unusual occurrence.

Minor tail strikes may not be dangerous, but a thorough inspection, as occurred in last week’s United incident, is indicated.

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