An unfortunate Christmas Day diversion took place for travelers aboard a TAP Air Portugal A321LR flying from Lisbon (Portugal) to Natal (Brazil). The aircraft had flown for approximately 90 minutes when it had to change course and land on the Island of Madeira. The cause of the diversion was a mismatch in luggage that was loaded onboard the aircraft, with a bag apparently unaccompanied by a passenger.
The aircraft, registered CS-TXA, was operating flight TP5 from the Portugueses capital to Natal. This service took off 30 minutes late, at 17:32 local time, and was cruising at FL330. It was when the jet was 270 nautical miles south of Funchal that the diversion was initiated. Turning around, the Aviation Herald notes that the aircraft burned off fuel and landed safely in Funchal approximately 80 minutes after leaving FL330.
Specific details are scarce, somehow it was discovered that a bag onboard the aircraft was unaccompanied by a passenger, prompting the diversion. In these instances, it appears to be standard procedure for the unaccompanied piece of luggage to be offloaded.
The aircraft was on the ground in Funchal for about an hour, and then continued its journey to Natal at 22:22 local time. Touching down at Natal at 01:22 local time, the flight and its passengers experienced a delay of roughly four hours.
This occasionally happens
While this is (thankfully) an infrequent occurrence, diversions due to mismatched and unaccompanied baggage do take place from time to time.
It was back in 2017 that a Norwegian service from London to Boston was forced to divert to Dublin once it was discovered that a piece of unaccompanied luggage had made it into the aircraft’s cargo hold. In this instance, The Telegraph reports that the flight was off the west coast of Ireland when it diverted to Dublin. It was reported that a piece of luggage had been loaded onto the 787 without its rightful owner. Norwegian told the Irish Times that the jet diverted to Dublin to offload the luggage.
Going further back, in 2014, an MEA A320 flying from Geneva to Beirut had to divert to Rome after Swiss Airport Authorities reported “a mismatch” in the luggage, with a suitcase traveling on the plane without its owner. Arabian Business adds that two Italian Air Force Typhoon fighter jets were sent to escort the aircraft to Rome Fiumicino Airport.
A security risk
Luggage mismatches can sometimes take place as a result of travelers missing their flights. While airports and baggage handlers might do a fantastic job at getting passenger bags loaded on time, passengers still have the responsibility of getting themselves onto the aircraft before it departs.
When the latter fails to happen, flights are most often delayed while baggage is offloaded. However, this isn’t always the case, and the flight takes off before the airline or airport realizes a bag has been loaded without the accompanying passenger.
While this is almost always an accident, it has become standard procedure to treat an unaccompanied piece of luggage as suspicious and a potential security threat. This is why aircraft must divert to a nearby airport to deal with the luggage.
Have you ever had a flight diverted or delayed due to luggage issues? Share your experiences by leaving a comment.