Last Wednesday at around 8 pm, Delta flight 54 from London to Seattle carrying 166 passengers and 13 crew members unexpectedly landed at the small Yakima Airport due to inclement weather in Seattle.
This resulted in logistical difficulties for the airport staff, who had only a few minute's notice and had never dealt with an international arrival before.
With the crew nearing their legally mandated rest period, passengers remained stuck on the plane for around 3 hours until Customs and Border Patrol officers could arrive from Seattle to process them.
As the plane also needed refuelling, passengers could not disembark until cleared by authorities.
Meanwhile, the Yakima Police Department provided support, ordering pizzas for weary travelers.
Behind the scenes, airport staff coordinated ramp space for the London plane and scheduled inbound flights from Alaska Airlines and Delta’s ferry flight to retrieve passengers. Airport director Robert Hodgman noted passengers were stuck for 45 minutes in the terminal after customs but remained congenial despite the long delay.
A Difficult Landing for a Small Airport
The unexpected landing in itself did not pose issues for the Yakima Airport as they already serve as the primary divert field for Seattle-Tacoma (Sea-Tac) Airport and had already accepted five diverted flights this year.
However, flight 54 originated from London, presenting the first international diversion Airport Director Robert Hodgman and his team had faced.
With only minutes' notice from air traffic control before Flight 54 touched down, Hodgman noted staff from across airport departments came in quickly to handle the situation.
As an airport accustomed to domestic, regional flights, having a wide-body aircraft carrying foreign nationals posed additional considerations around customs processing, international catering standards, baggage handling and the extended runway length required for the larger plane.
The airport also had to balance Flight 54's needs with existing scheduled operations. Alaska Airlines flight 2107 from Seattle arrived later that evening with its own passengers and ground activities.
Additionally, Delta dispatched another aircraft from Sea-Tac to pick up the stranded passengers, designated flight 2054. Airport personnel managed the runway and gate assignments, so neither flight was overly delayed. Hodgman praised his team’s coordination, ensuring all three aircraft were safely handled.