Flight experiences take-off issues after communication error leaves too many passengers at front of plane

Helen Coffey
·2-min read
Too many passengers were seated at the front (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Too many passengers were seated at the front (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

A flight from Luton Airport experienced issues taking off after too many passengers were seated at the front of the aircraft due to a “technical problem”.

An investigation conducted by the Air Accident Investigations Branch (AAIB) found that an email requesting an A321 rather than an A320 be used for the service to Prague on 16 January never got sent.

This communication error meant the smaller plane was used, but the seating plan was designed for the A321.

“An email informing OHD (Operational Handling Department) and PSD (Passenger Services Department) of the change was prepared but, due to a technical problem, was not sent,” said the report.

The automated email came from the Operational Control Centre (OCC) in Hungary.

Due to the incorrect distribution of passengers, the aircraft did not respond to usual take-off commands and the pilot needed to deploy extra thrust.

However, there were no further incidents and the flight landed safely in the Czech capital.

“Only at the top of the descent for the destination did it become apparent that the passengers had possibly been incorrectly distributed in the cabin,” the report concluded.

”The crew did not experience any unusual control response during the approach and landing.“

The AAIB report did not name the airline but said it had since taken action following the incident.

Luton Airport declined to comment.

It follows complaints that airlines are not proactively spacing out passengers on planes during the coronavirus pandemic.

Based on its research into airline load factors (number of occupied seats), the consumer champion Which? found that “several airlines regularly had free seats available to leave a gap between social bubbles of passengers but weren’t doing so”.

Wizz Air had an average load factor of 55.5 per cent in the three months leading up to June this year, which meant that around every third seat would be empty.

But the airline’s random allocation seating policy wasn’t modified during the pandemic, which meant passengers were often seated in clusters and split up from those in their group unless they had paid extra to sit together.

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