When a Tame Airline flight bound for Loja was diverted back to Quito Friday night, the plane's 90 passengers refused to leave the aircraft, demanding that they be taken to Cuenca instead. The pilot agreed. The Quito to Loja flight was turned back from the Catamayo airport, which serves the Loja – Vilcambamba area, due to poor lighting conditions. The airport is not authorized to handle night-time flights.
Although the unplanned diversion to Cuenca didn't fit the definition of a hijacking, Ecuadorian aviation authorities say it was a violation of procedure and said they will investigate. A spokesman for the national aviation office said that the flight plan had not been approved and, as such, contradicted standard procedure.
A tense and often heated discussion ensued on the Quito airport tarmac between passengers, pilot and flight crew after the passengers announced, en bloc, that they would not leave the aircraft until they were in Cuenca. After consultations between the pilot and the air control tower, the plane was refueled and cleared for the flight to Cuenca.
“They expected us to catch taxis back to Quito and get a hotel room. It takes two hours from the new airport and costs $30 and then we have to pay to stay overnight. It doesn’t make sense. It isn’t fair,” said passenger Jorge Ruiz. “It’s only three hours by bus from Cuenca to Loja,” he said. “And besides that, most of us have friends in Cuenca if we want to stay overnight.”
Another passnger, Angela Maldonado, said that the passngers would not have made the flight diversion demand if they had landed at Quito's old airport. "The new airport is a long way from Quito. There are no hotels here. We just wanted to go home and Cuenca is much closer to home than Quito.
A number of passengers took cell phone photos of the discussions bewteen passengers and the pilot, one showing passengers breaking into a cheer when the announcement was made that the plane would continue to Cuenca.
Photo caption: Cell phone photo of passengers cheering when they are told that the flight would continue to Cuenca.