While reading one of the reports of flight diversion, I started thinking about how airlines manage aftermath of the diversion especially for long haul transatlantic flights.

Many of the reports say airlines provides a replacement plane. Replacement plane flies to the diversion airport, load up the passengers and continue.

If the original flight is full, what happens to original crew? Working with the assumption that new flight has new flight/cabin crew and there is not enough place for all.

If the airport is at significant distance where the replacement comes from or still has to fly significant distance, it's possible that replacement flight crew might run out of flying time.

Do they provide multiple sets of crews - one to fly to diversion and one to fly to actual destination.

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    $\begingroup$ This is actually a really good question. I've been a pax on transatlantic flights that have been diverted to places like Gander, Canada (pray you're never diverted there...) because of things like an elderly passenger dying mid-flight. My hunch would be that the crew flying the replacement bird would also be in charge of taking the pax to the original final destination. $\endgroup$ Jun 18, 2019 at 10:48
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    $\begingroup$ @JuanJimenez It would depend on where the planes have come from and are going. In the case a US-Europe flight being diverted to Gander, if the replacement plane comes from Europe, the crew won't be able to fly Europe-Gander-Europe in a single shift, and I doubt the airline would want another plane sitting on the tarmac for a day while the crew rested. $\endgroup$ Jun 18, 2019 at 18:49

3 Answers 3


I'd say you've answered your question yourself, by listing the various scenario's, any or all of which could be of concern in a particular situation. Handling a diverted flight is a juggle between, safety, time, comfort factor (for crew, for passengers), cost, etc. In turn these are affected by feasibility, location of base (for replacement of crew/airplane), ease of availability of replacements, number of passengers, break up of their final destinations (likely factor when flying to long-haul to a hub), fuel and tech facilities available at the diversionary airfield, whether local 'diversion handling' contracts are in place, or the situation is being handled on-the-fly at an obscure airport. Airlines tend to have their own tailor-made SOPs, or guides.

These issues are ideal ones to be addressed by Airline Alliances such as STAR or 'One World' and traditionally all help is given to such flights. "You today, could be me tomorrow"

Assuming the airplane is ok, The change of crew may not be required if the remainder of the flight fits within the DTL's (Duty Time Limits) and the extra landing for recovery falls within the ambit of the rules. Crew are expected to be rested enough, when reporting for Flight Duty, to operate to their limiting DTL's. There are allowable extensions to these limits too, provided every crew member is upto it, ie not fatigued, and the Captain judges it to be a true reflection of the situation. The Captain would have to document all this in the Regulatory/Company paperwork. Note that Long-haul flights carry more crew than the minimum for shorter flights, so all crew get some time-out and an opportunity for horizontal rest, ideally in the form of a 180deg reclinable seat or bunks, normally in a private crew rest area.

For Ultra Long Haul flights, the hours, and crew numbers are ideally decided on a case by case, 'city-pair' basis, along with the Regulator and related procedures documented by the Operator, acceptable to crew, and approved by the Regulator.

In case a layover has to be declared by the Captain, many Operators/Regulators have a concept of Minimum Rest, which maybe typically 8 or 6 hrs of undisturbed rest, sometimes called (hotel) "key to key" time. This may provide more certainty than organizing a relief airplane that has to fly 12 hours to get there.


Ferry flights are actually very common and typically only have the 2 or 3 pilots as total people onboard. Cabin crew are only needed with passengers and their duty time restrictions are different from the pilots. However with a full new cabin crew (maximum of 50 passengers per flight attendant, minimum 2 attendants for typical airline flights in the USA) there are a few extra jump seats, or the company could simply arrange for a slightly larger plane.(or use two smaller planes.)

Failing all that, the company can purchase a few tickets on another airline for the extra crew. Legally in the USA airlines have a few contractual obligation to passengers and this results in airlines occasionally purchasing tickets for customers to fly on a competing airline when sold out flights are replaced with a smaller plane.

It would be unlikely to send a replacement from a long distance, this would be a needless waste of fuel and crew time. If they could not open up one of their own fleet in the local area then the company would hire a charter plane that is local. They may also just wait until another regular flight will be in the area depending on schedule frequency.

  • $\begingroup$ Hmmm... very common? That's very ambiguous. $\endgroup$
    – Jpe61
    Mar 5, 2020 at 8:23
  • $\begingroup$ Ferry flight are a daily occurrence. Most new aircraft are transferred and delivered as ferry flights. As are any aircraft at the hour limits for inspections or those in need of repair so that they may get to the location of the inspection or repair. $\endgroup$
    – Max Power
    Mar 15, 2020 at 21:18
  • $\begingroup$ Of course, but I was thinkin' compared to operative flights: not so common. As such, probably hundreds of ferry flights in the air at any given moment, thats for sure. $\endgroup$
    – Jpe61
    Mar 15, 2020 at 21:33

Any of those combinations, and some others can happen. The dispatcher will try to find cheapest way to handle the diversion that fits all applicable regulations and safety rules, and since the options they have available differ from diversion to diversion, the solution will probably be different every time as well.

  • If the crew that files in the replacement aircraft has enough duty time left, they are the obvious choice to continue with it. It does not have to be though and occasionally the dispatcher will come up with some other combination.

  • If it took enough time to fly in the replacement aircraft that the original crew is now rested and can legally start a new shift, and they are rated for the replacement aircraft, they can also operate the continuation. Sometimes the continuation will even be delayed by a couple of hours to allow this instead of needing another crew.

  • The aircraft can carry a second crew to operate the continuation. The cabin crew also probably isn't needed for the ferry flight, so they only start duty when they board the passengers.

  • Additional crew can arrive as passengers on any other, completely unrelated flight, likely of a different operator. Any crew members no longer needed at the point of diversion can leave the same way.

  • Even if replacement aircraft is provided to complete the flight, the agents may rebook some passengers to other flights (of other operators) when it gets them to their final destinations faster. That can free up some space in the replacement aircraft for the now off duty crew.

  • Some flight crew needs to stay around to ferry the diverted aircraft back home once the mechanics get into good enough shape that it can be flown. The cabin crew might be able to return with them if there was no other option and the state of the aircraft allows it (unless the aircraft gets ferry permit only allowing essential crew). The same goes for the mechanics that might have arrived on the replacement to carry out the repairs.

The dispatcher will consider the available combinations, estimate their cost—which includes indirect costs; the replacement aircraft was probably scheduled for some other flight, so that will now have to be rescheduled too and some passengers will have to be rebooked there, or entitled for a refund etc.—and pick what looks best.


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