Bryan Gottlieb was in New Zealand for five weeks due to a job. He was looking forward to going home - and especially looking forward to joining his brother's bachelor party as soon as he arrived. A flight from Auckland to New York City takes about 16 hours. Gottlieb therefore decided to sleep on board the "Air New Zealand" machine.
"I slept pretty soundly and woke up feeling like I was going to end up in JFK soon," Gottlieb told CNN. However, things turned out differently: When he woke up again, another passenger tapped him on the shoulder and asked him: "Did you know that we are almost back in Auckland?"
Gottlieb's flight, number ANZ2, had turned around halfway and flown back to Auckland. According to Flightaware, the flight tracking site, the plane had been in the air for a total of 16 hours and 25 minutes before landing at the same airport from which it had previously taken off.
According to the other passenger, the news only came two or three hours before the plane was scheduled to land - when the plane was almost back in New Zealand. "You could see our flight route on the screen and word had already gotten around," Gottlieb quotes his seat neighbor as saying.
In his announcement, the pilot admitted that "part of the decision was based on the efficiency of the airline's schedule and that the lack of a crew at an airport near JFK would have caused the airline further delays."
"Anyone on that plane would much rather have landed at a different airport in the US, let alone Newark or LaGuardia, which are in the same area," says Gottlieb.
Air New Zealand said in a statement to CNN that a diversion to another US airport would have meant the plane would have been grounded for several days, impacting a number of other scheduled flights and passengers. "We apologize for the inconvenience and thank our customers for their patience and understanding," the airline said in a statement.
Gottlieb waited eight hours at Auckland airport for his next flight to Los Angeles. From there he took another plane to New York. The diverted flight was Gottlieb's second attempt to get home. Its original return flight last Monday was canceled due to the devastating cyclone that struck New Zealand. He couldn't make it to his brother's bachelor party.
Sources: CNN, Washington Post