3 Days Stranded in Siberia? Flight Delays Don’t Come Much Worse Than This
Posted November 14, 2018 4:29 p.m. EST
MOSCOW — Pretty much all seasoned travelers know the frustration of flight delays — the time wasted puttering in an airport, waiting in a hotel room or, perhaps worst of all, stuck on the tarmac in an idled plane.
But how about three days stranded in Siberia?
That was the nightmare experienced by the passengers and crew of Air France Flight 116 this week, when their Boeing 777 was diverted to the city of Irkutsk on Sunday, about 2,600 miles east of Moscow, after an acrid smell and light smoke wafted through the cabin.
The 282 passengers sat on the plane for some six hours before being allowed to disembark.
But a chilly reception then awaited — both literally (at one point it was around 1 degree Fahrenheit, or minus 17 Celsius, outside) and figuratively, with passengers forced to stay within the confines of the airport or two hotels where they were put up because they lacked entry visas. Initially, they were denied access to their luggage, as well.
To make matters worse, a second Boeing 777 sent from Paris to pick up the passengers, who were traveling from the French capital to Shanghai, also broke down before takeoff in Irkutsk as the hydraulic system froze. That led to another long wait on the tarmac in Siberia, before the passengers were once again told to deplane.
“We are dirty, we smell, it is now over 30 hours that we are under house arrest, without a suitcase or passport,” Eleanor Joulie, one of those stranded, wrote on Twitter on Monday, after the ordeal was barely half over.
Finally, a third aircraft flew them to Shanghai Pudong International Airport on Wednesday, according to Air France.
Among the travelers stuck in Irkutsk were employees of Louis Vuitton, the luxury goods brand, including several social media managers whose Instagram posts displayed a mixture of frustration and mirth as the misadventure dragged on. They cooled their heels at a London-themed pub in their hotel and posted a six-second video on YouTube pretending to be the opening credits of an imaginary TV series called “Stuck in Siberia.”
Another passenger, Stéphane Catherine, posted pictures of fellow travelers digging into their stock of luxury macaroons as they waited at the Irkutsk airport.
The episode prompted plenty of jokes from Russians on social media, partly because the story echoed the plot of a popular 1970s Soviet comedy called “The Incredible Adventures of Italians in Russia.”
Many also pilloried officials in Irkutsk for not letting the foreigners look around — Lake Baikal, one of the wonders of Siberia, was only about an hour’s drive away. Others offered to show passengers the sights if they returned under more pleasant circumstances.
Air France, in a statement, said it regretted the situation and wished to apologize to passengers “for the inconvenience and significant delay experienced.”
As for any recompense such as vouchers, the airline said it had “contacted the customers concerned to propose suitable commercial measures.”