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My trip to Australia in early 2017 included a lot of firsts for me. It was my first time flying international first class (SEE: United Polaris First SFO to ICN: A review), my first transpacific flight, and my first time (that I can recall) on a 747. And it was the first time I’ve been on a flight that had to be diverted!
My ticket to Australia was already a bit roundabout. Instead of booking a non-stop from SFO to Sydney, I had instead looked for options with a connection in Asia. I pulled the trigger on a route that included SFO-ICN-SYD. One of my goals for this quick trip was a lot of flight time in a premium cabin, and this routing gave me a 12-hour flight in United Global First, and then a 9 hour flight in Asiana business class. All for 80,000 United miles.
I never expected to tack on a stop in Alaska.
A smooth flight goes south (or…north?)
At about 2:20 p.m Pacific time while on United Airlines flight 893 from SFO to Seoul Incheon (ICN), I felt the plane bank for a fairly prolonged time, and immediately wondered what was going on. We were now flying straight north when we should have been going east.
A minute later the captain announced that we would be diverting to Anchorage, stating that one of our fellow passengers was going into labor(!), and we needed to get her off the plane ASAP. We had been in the air for about 3 hours, and Anchorage was the only reasonable destination for an emergency diversion. You can see the diversion on the Flight Aware map.
Previously, a flight attendant announced that they were seeking a doctor on board, specifically an OBGYN, if available. I didn’t think much of it at the time. It turned out to be the very beginning of a crazy few hours!
The entire first-class cabin was abuzz just minutes after the news, both because of the diversion and because a baby might possibly be born onboard the aircraft! Anchorage International Airport was an hour out, and the flight crew set up a makeshift birthing area in the back galley of the plane. Things were serious.
The flight attendant in first informed us that she would certainly keep us appraised of the situation. Since several of us were up and moving about already, she also invited us to come back and watch the fuel being dumped. Unfortunately, we missed that spectacle by a minute or two.
Our emergency diversion
We landed in Anchorage without incident, and there were fire trucks and medical personnel waiting for us. The woman was transported off the plane by a paramedic crew and rushed to the hospital. No baby was born in the air, but it was certainly coming today!
One of the two medially-trained passengers who assisted the woman said he thought she maybe had an hour before delivery. Had we been a bit further from an airport, that baby just might have had free flights for life or a million air miles!
Things just keep getting weirder
The excitement of the diversion hadn’t even yet abated, when the entire first-class cabin suddenly had their smartphones pointing at a DreamLifter taking off from Anchorage. I’ve read about Boeing’s giant cargo planes, but this was the first time I’d laid my eyes on one! It was impressive.
To top things off, two other passengers in the first-class cabin then got engaged on the spot! The man had planned to pop the question to his girlfriend in a few days in Sydney, Australia (oddly enough where I was headed), but apparently decided that an impromptu diversion to Alaska would be just as suitable an occasion (they had also been drinking…quite a bit).
Another of the first-class passengers ended up de-planing in Anchorage since he would no longer be able to make a business meeting in Korea. At the captain’s request, the flight attendants kindly moved the nurse who had assisted the woman from economy to first. Win for her.
After refueling and other necessary operations, we finally took off from Anchorage about 4:00 p.m. local time, arriving in Seoul right around 7:00 p.m. Korean time. Fortunately, this allowed me to still make my 8:00 connection to Sydney (SEE: Asiana business class review Seoul to Sydney), although I didn’t get any time to wander Incheon airport.
Still, looking back on the experience, I wouldn’t change a thing. I can honestly say it was one of the weirdest travel days I’ve had, and I am so glad I was along for the ride. I just hope the woman had a quick and easy labor (once off the plane) and delivered a healthy baby.
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