How Cathay Pacific Airlines Left Me Stranded in Tokyo for 24 Hours

I just got back from my Asia trip through Taipei, Hong Kong, Macau, and an unplanned stopover in Tokyo. On Tuesday, I was scheduled to fly Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong to Tokyo with a two hour layover in Narita International Airport (NRT) and then continue onto Japan Airlines from Tokyo to Los Angeles.

When the Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong started to taxi away from the gate, the pilot announced that there would be a 30 minute delay (which turned into one hour)  due to there only being one active runway. That means only one runway is used for arriving and departing flights. After the one hour delay, the captain announced that “engine #4 has failed” and that the engineers needed to come onboard to take a look at the problem. It turns out that the engine needed a part to be repaired and the delay would be an additional 2 hours.

At this point, I knew I was going to miss my connection and was talking with friends about what possible ways I could get to Los Angeles on that same day. It turns out that there was a Singapore Airlines flight departing at 7pm from NRT-LAX with two spaces in F available. There was also an alternative, Cathay Pacific from HKG-LAX which departed in two hours. I alerted the flight attendant to tell the ground crew to see if it was possible to whisk me away onto that flight. In the end, it was not possible and the ground crew advised that they are working on my ticket.

The flight attendant told me that since it’s lunch time, she would be starting the meal service. I was like okay, awesome! Instead of taxiing back to the gate, the captain parked in the middle of the tarmac and maintenance soon came onboard. It was like a dream come true having my very first “First Class” meal and what better way than to enjoy it while watching planes take off on the active runway?


The flight was a short 3 and a half hours and it was probably the best service I’ve ever had on any flight. I was the only one in First Class and now that I think about it, I thought it was overly “over the top”. I was basically called Mr. Ng like 50 times during the flight by the First Class flight attendant. She also kept me updated with the delay and rebooking situation at all times. When she talked to me, she would kneel down to my level instead of me having to look up which I thought was a nice gesture.

The flight landed at 6pm and by then my original Japan Airlines flight from NRT-LAX at 5:25pm had already left. The ground crew said that 7 different flights were affected and only a handful of us needed to be rebooked. One DYKWIA misconnected on his American Airlines flight 170 and was highly frustrated. He was talking loudly to the agent saying “I’m an oneworld Emerald member, I don’t want to stay at a hotel near the airport”. Then he said “I want a hotel in Tokyo where I can have a nice dinner”. I saw that he was an Executive Platinum member traveling with two of his female companions. The Japanese ground crew agent never raised her voice and basically said told him that he will be rebooked on the same flight tomorrow and that the accommodations were at the Hilton Narita airport where dinner and breakfast will be provided. Eventually he agreed and I loved the way the Japanese agents handled the situation which was quite the opposite in a country like Brazil where all hell broke loose when passengers had to overnight in Rio de Janeiro.

I found out that I was already rebooked on Singapore Airlines which I politely declined. Apparently Cathay Pacific rebooked me in Business Class on Singapore Airlines and I said that I specifically booked this ticket because I wanted to fly on Japan Airlines in First Class. I waited until 7pm where the agent hands me a printed confirmation letter where it says that I was rebooked on American Airlines 170 in First Class. The Japanese agent somehow convinced me that I needed to accept the itinerary and proceed to the Hilton Narita which I accepted.

As I was walking towards Baggage Claim, I saw a Japan Airlines ticket counter which is used to issue boarding passes to customers in transit. I explained to the ticket agent what had happen and she got Cathay Pacific on the phone and told me that Japan Airlines can’t do the rebooking. I was informed that since Cathay Pacific was the one that inconvenienced me, they have to fix the problem. The JAL agent then told me that a Cathay Pacific representative would be meeting me. 20 minutes later, the Cathay Pacific agent asked me if I would have a problem taking a flight from Haneda Airport (HND). I said no, I wouldn’t have a problem, but then she got a call saying that I would have to stick with American Airlines. At this point, it was 7:30pm and she apologized a million times. I told her that I really want to be on the Japan Airlines flight tomorrow and she said I’m so sorry.

The Cathay Pacific agent walked me through Immigration and Baggage claim which was a nice gesture. She even went further and attempted to retrieve my bag from the carousel and walked it over to me. I thought this absolutely exceptional and she even went through with me through Customs and through the Arrivals Hall. She even went a step further to assist me in finding the right shuttle for the Hilton Narita Hotel. She politely asked me if she could be excused to head back to the airport while I waited for the shuttle. I said absolutely and thanked her for all the help she had done.

I arrived at the Narita Hilton hotel and once I checked into the room, I received a phone call from Cathay Pacific. They informed me that I was re-booked on Japan Airlines flight 62 and I was ecstatic! I get to overnight in Japan for the very first time and I had done no research about Tokyo during this unplanned layover. Needless to say, I never slept at the Hilton NRT and only used it to store my belongings. It was one of my wildest adventures in Tokyo (more on that later).

What would you have done? Would you have gotten on that Singapore flight or stayed overnight in Tokyo?


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11 Comments on "How Cathay Pacific Airlines Left Me Stranded in Tokyo for 24 Hours"

  1. Amol (@PointsToPointB) | May 14, 2014 at 9:53 pm | Reply

    Considering how far Tokyo is from Narita, I would have taken the SQ flight — Singapore on the A380 in Business is still a great ride (and you would have earned miles in your Star Alliance program of choice!).

  2. I would try to get Suites on SQ. If not, my decision would be dependent on how many miles/points I have, so I can fly JL F next time.

  3. If I had the flexibility I would have done the same exact thing. Being in a similar boat as you (with limited Intl F travel), these “first” first-class experiences are exciting, and when things like this happen that open up another opportunity to experience I roll with it. Great write-up and great pictures as well 🙂

  4. There are some cool things you can do around Narita – A quick hop over to “Narita town” is always nice, but I would have hopped on a bus into Tokyo – which it sounds like you did 🙂

  5. It only takes an hour to get to Tokyo from NRT. When you have almost 24 hours and a first-class bed to sleep in for your flight home, it’s a no-brainer to make the trip. And, you can pack a lot into a small amount of time in Tokyo. Robot parties, karaoke, Tsukiji, Senso-ji, conveyor-belt sushi, Akihabara. The city is your oyster!

    I would have hopped on the N’Ex and partied down.

  6. What luck I am torn never flown JAL but love SQ heaps. Would possibly pushed for SQ F Suites, and then pushed for JAL second. At least they really took care of you which is what was really most important.

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