Whether they got tanked and tried to open the emergency exit mid-flight, drank too much in first class and ran around naked or struck a flight attendant with a bottle of vodka, drunken passengers have been all over the place this summer, and their unscheduled route changes are costing the airlines hoards of money.
Diverting an aircraft isn’t as easy as finding the closest runway and pointing the aircraft in that direction. Depending on where you are in your journey, you may be severly overweight for landing — with too much fuel in your tanks it takes a lot of work on the brakes to stop the aircraft — and if you wear them too far or even get them too hot they need to be inspected or replaced. So unless it’s an emergency, most airlines opt to either circle and burn up fuel or dump it into the atmosphere prior to landing, a measure that’s both detrimental to costs and the environment.
Additionally, many airlines charge landing fees to put an aircraft down on their soil, regarldess or whether or not there is an emergency.
Crew work hours and rest also play into the picture when diverting. If a pilot or flight attendant goes over time while your flight is on the ground you can’t take off with that person onboard.
Finally, the few hours on the ground affect the passengers and their connections at the destination. Should the aircraft get in three hours late, half of the connecting passengers missed their connection and need to be rebooked at the expense of the airline.
To get an idea of how much it costs to divert an aircraft, we asked our resident pilot, Kent Wien about what goes into the affair. He says:
“The diversion costs can be staggering when the crew runs out of duty time. So if they exceed their 8 hours of flying time that day (for a two man crew) or their 16 hour duty day (FAA regs, the individual airlines may have contracts the bring that number down) they’re pumpkins. And then you have to find hotels and other means of transportation for the passengers.
I’ve been told it can cost $200,000 for a widebody to divert. But the best case scenario–land, pick up fuel, and depart immediately– would easily cost $10,000 in extra fuel burned.”
To that end, many airlines who have been forced to divert recently are now starting to sue the passengers causing the divert to recoup their extra landing fees. Try to keep that in mind next time you get drunk before a flight — it’s better to pass out and drool all over yourself then get into a fight and smacked with a $10,000 bill from your airline.