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Thousands of airline passengers across Europe woke up this morning in the wrong destination – and even in the wrong country – after Storm Isha wreaked havoc on flights, with dozens of cancellations, diversions and departures in Western Europe.
Flying is usually the quickest way to get from point A to point B on long-haul flights, but for those flying to and from Ireland and the UK last night, flying has become something of an odyssey. Airports in Ireland and the United Kingdom were severely damaged by the storm, with winds reaching 90 mph across the runways.
Many westbound planes diverted to safer locations on continental Europe, often flying to the destination before failing to land. Ryanair was particularly affected because its base is in Dublin, where 166 domestic and international flights were canceled on Sunday, according to Kevin Cullinan, group head of communications at DAA, the operator of Dublin Airport.
The airport also saw 36 diversionary flights and 34 go-around flights – where planes abandon landing midway through the process and decide to “go around” for another attempt.
The figures explain the extraordinary scenes that unfolded as planes attempted to complete their flights to and from Ireland.
A Ryanair flight from Lanzarote, in the Canary Islands, to Dublin almost reached the Irish capital, before turning around and diverting to Bordeaux, France, without attempting to land.
00:30- Source: CNN
Storm Isha batters the British Isles
This journey from Shannon to Edinburgh ended in Cologne.
Another Ryanair flight, FR555, was supposed to make a quick hop from Manchester to Dublin. After circling nearby in a holding pattern, it attempted to land in Dublin but spun around and diverted to Paris Beauvais. What was usually a half hour flight became two and a half hours.
Another flight between Manchester and Dublin went back and forth between the UK and Ireland for more than three hours, and appeared to orbit but abandoned a landing in Dublin, attempted to land in Belfast (where it spun around) and flew over Glasgow before that. Landing in Liverpool – just 31 miles from the departure airport.
A flight between Manchester and Dublin tried Dublin, Belfast and Glasgow before landing in Liverpool.
The third aircraft, FR816, which was scheduled to make the hour-long flight from Shannon to Edinburgh, flew all the way to Scotland and then diverted to Cologne in Germany. The flight was also severely delayed: due to leave Dublin at 3.35pm, arriving in Cologne around midnight.
The Lufthansa plane from Munich to Dublin had to make a detour and return to Munich.
Cork City, in Ireland, saw 13 cancellations on Sunday, in addition to six transfers and seven tours.
The United Kingdom was also hit hard. There were more than 100 flights at UK airports, according to NATS, the UK’s air traffic control operator.
“Esha made its presence felt in southern England and Ireland, where winds were southwesterly at 70-75 mph, meaning crosswinds at our key airports in the south, with wind shear and turbulence adding additional challenges for flight crews,” wrote Steve Fox, President Network Operations at NATS, in a blog post.
“In the north of the country, the winds were even fiercer, with wind speeds reaching more than 90 miles per hour, creating problems not only for aviation but for the entire transport infrastructure.
“As airports in the UK began to fill up with aircraft unable to depart or be diverted, throughout the evening we monitored the situation as aircraft were diverted from Dublin to Deauville, from Edinburgh to Cologne and wherever in the UK was least affected there was still space available for a pilot. “Critical decision point.”
44 flights were canceled in Edinburgh, according to an airport spokesman, who described Sunday’s operations as “difficult.” Eight flights were diverted.
Manchester saw 14 flight cancellations, but fewer than other airports due to wind direction, according to a spokesperson. They said: “We have seen some diverted flights leaving Manchester and some diverted to Manchester due to conditions at other airports, particularly Dublin.” Local airline Loganair canceled all its flights yesterday at the airport.
Gatwick Airport in London witnessed 22 diversions, but it was able to receive five flights diverted from other airports, according to an airport spokesman. Stansted Airport, north-east of London, was less affected, with nine flights canceled but 31 of them diverted.
An easyJet flight from Antalya, Turkey, to Manchester, made its way to the UK before turning around and landing safely in Lyon, France.
One plane even tried to land in the UK instead of continuing on. Ryanair flight 718 from Manchester to Budapest was seen descending to 1,200 feet at Stansted Airport before ascending again and continuing on to Budapest.
Flight tracking websites were lit up with strange paths and swirls, as planes circled, waited for a safe window to land, then turned to divert to somewhere in another country.
By Monday morning, the shock effects were evident, as planes flew out of position across Europe. Cullinan said 29 flights had been canceled in Dublin by 8.30am. He added that additional parking fees will be waived for commuters affected by the storm. There was only one cancellation in Cork today.
The Manchester-Dublin flight ended in Paris.
As has become customary when there is a storm in the UK, aviation broadcaster Gerry Dyer from Big Jet TV was at Heathrow Airport, watching the planes arrive during the afternoon.
Although the winds had not reached their peak—Dyer stopped the broadcast when darkness fell—he caught on camera an aircraft struggling with the wind and making a difficult landing—like an Aeromexico flight from Mexico City, which began to “sway” as it descended, tipping from side to side.
“It’s like driving a vehicle in high winds, you’re taking on everything,” he told CNN.
“It’s very controlled, and they know what they’re doing.”
More than 350,000 people watched the footage he took of Isha’s landing.
“People are watching for entertainment value, but they’re also secretly watching to see if anything happens — they want drama, like a ride around,” he said.
Another broadcaster compiled footage of each tour of Birmingham Airport.
One pilot who landed at London’s Heathrow Airport in the late afternoon told CNN they encountered winds of 90 knots (104 mph) at 3,000 feet, which dropped to 35 knots (40 mph) at ground level.
“Getting the plane down safely is a huge team effort in conditions like yesterday, and not all of that team is flying the plane,” said the pilot, who wished to remain anonymous because his airline does not allow them to speak on its behalf.
“This presents significant challenges not only to the pilots but to the air traffic controllers who direct the aircraft on its final approach. The winds were very strong yesterday, and we had a ground speed that, in less severe conditions, would have allowed us to be overtaken by a helicopter.”
They added that dealing with such situations is normal.
“While it can be exciting and stressful at times for passengers, and even entertaining when Big Jet TV’s Jerry narrates it, it’s all part of the daily work of an airline pilot. We train for these extreme events and plan for success, but we also think for emergencies.” We have a great deal of detail. “Yesterday we cleared enough fuel for an additional approach if necessary, an additional hold, and even a diversion to an airfield where the winds are not so strong,” they said.
“Safety is not just about an accident, it is about planning and having options when landing at your destination is not guaranteed.”