A major flub for an air carrier pilot would be taxiing up and parking the big ole jet airliner at the wrong gate. Oops.
But the goof by a British Airways Embraer 170 crew was way better, in that it was way worse. BA Flight 3271 was supposed to go from London City, England, to Dusseldorf, Germany but instead went to Edinburgh, Scotland. Major oops.
When we heard this, we guessed that we knew just how it happened, and we were right. Like many commuter flights in the United States, where major airlines code-share with smaller airlines on shorter flights—a United flight might be operated by United Express, which is a separate entity—British Airways has flights operated by partners, as well.
But how could the flight possibly have gone so far in the wrong direction with no one noticing? Well, it didn’t. As we surmised, it sounds as though it was a dispatch screw up. The pilots got the flight plan from dispatch, and it said “thou shalt go to Edinburgh,” and so they did. They probably just dutifully typed that clearance into the flight management system, and then got that clearance from ATC, which so far as it knew, was clearing a plane on a normal flight, and the pilots flew to where the flight plan said they were supposed to go. And even though it raised no alarm bells, it was a major SNAFU, as in, situation normal, all fine, unfortunately, it wasn’t.
The details of how the pilots found out they did a modern-day version of Wrong Way Corrigan have not yet been publicized, but we’re dying to find out. Did the flight attendants tell the passengers, once the plane had landed, “Welcome to Dusseldorf?” And when did the passengers realize that their two weeks of conversational German lessons would do them no good where they landed, and they’d have to live with haggis instead of schnitzel and tartan plaid instead of lederhosen. Which on second thought might be kind of a trade off all things considered.
British Airways apologized to the customers and got them off to Dusseldorf as fast as they could. No word on how the incorrect flight plan got into the system, but we’re guessing the airline is taking a long hard look at how it happened, because it’s only funny until someone gets hurt, or until the pilots tell the “German” controllers how interesting their accents are.