There's a reason flight schedules are created—some airplanes are made (and certified) for longer journeys and some aren't. At the end of last month, 100+ passengers aboard Flight 31 from Los Angeles to Honolulu were unknowingly placed on the wrong airplane. The trip was made without any issues (collective sigh of relief), but the issue still raises some eyebrows given that the flight used for the journey was not cleared for an extensive over-water itinerary.
The five-hour and 17-minute trip was taken on by a Airbus A321—the same model of airplane that was supposed to make the trip. (It's also the same model, if not the exact same aircraft, as the plane pictured.) The only issue here is that the one plane was equipped with extended-range twin-engine operational performance standards (ETOPS) and the other wasn't. (In short, there are various levels of certification that are granted depending on the routes flights will be taking.) These standards are essential—and strictly enforced by the FAA—for airplanes traveling far from emergency landing areas. After landing safely in Honolulu, the airplane was sent back (empty) to L.A.
The brand's L.A.-Honolulu route has been around for awhile, but the airline had just begun using the Airbuses to make the journey weeks before the mishap, which could have something to do with the confusion. American Airlines spokeperson Casey Norton shared a few words on the incident in a public statement: "When we noticed it, we immediately undertook an internal investigation, and we alerted the FAA. We are checking our internal procedures, everything that led up to the departure. ... We have gone back and made some changes to software systems."
Erika Owen is the Audience Engagement Editor at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @erikaraeowen.