By Andrea Romano
March 26, 2019
British Airways
Credit: NurPhoto/Getty Images

Travel errors happen all the time, but it’s not every day that an entire plane full of travelers gets completely turned around.

A seemingly innocuous detail ended up creating a huge mistake on a British Airways flight from London's City Airport, CNN reported. On Monday, British Airways flight 3271 took passengers to Edinburgh, Scotland, instead of to Dusseldorf in Germany, their planned destination. So, how did such a blunder actually happen?

When the flight landed in Scotland, most passengers thought it was a joke. But when the crew asked how many intended to go to Dusseldorf that day, everyone raised their hands, according to CNN.

The real mistake actually stems from the flight operator, WDL Aviation, which filed an incorrect flight path to Edinburgh instead of Dusseldorf, according to ABC in Australia. WDL is a German leasing company working with BA CityFlyer, which is a subsidiary of British Airways.

According to The Independent, the plane operated by WDL was flown almost exclusively between London City and Germany. Specifically, the plane operated on Sunday from Dusseldorf to London City to Edinburgh and back. You can see where things are starting to get confusing.

Of course, passengers weren’t totally clueless as to what might be happening during the flight. According to CNN, Piotr Pomienski, whose girlfriend was on the plane, noticed the plane was flying north instead of south on FlightRadar, but assumed it was an error.

Then there’s the issue with the pre-flight announcement. The Independent notes that passengers should have picked up on the fact that the plane wasn’t going to their destination, but it’s possible they either weren’t paying attention to or were only given the flight number. It’s unclear how passengers either didn’t notice or didn’t raise the issue to the crew. Or, if they did, why the crew didn’t take any complaints seriously.

It's relatively easy to assume that someone emailed or gave the wrong itinerary to the crew for the day, and the rest is history. Unfortunately, no one picked up on the mistake, because it didn’t seem like a mistake at all. Even if the crew thought they were going straight to Dusseldorf, the paperwork would have convinced them otherwise.

Eurocontrol, an international air traffic management organization, tweeted, “We get 30k flight plans a day. If someone files for EGPH and then flies there, no eyebrows are elevated.”

This isn’t the first time a traveler has accidentally flown in the wrong direction, though this kind of mistake usually lies with an individual passenger rather than an entire flight. A man in Canada managed to board an incorrect flight, traveling 1,400 miles in the opposite direction of his destination. And 34 people in Sweden ended up on a wrong flight, traveling 800 miles away from where they were going.

British Airways is working with WDL to investigate how the wrong flight plan was filed. “We have apologized to customers for this interruption to their journey and will be contacting them all individually,” the airline said.

All passengers were able to continue on their journey to Dusseldorf after reaching Edinburgh. According to the Independent, all passengers are entitled to €250 ($282 USD) as compensation for the mistake.