Following the unprecedented rainstorms that lashed the Gulf state of Dubai on April 16 and 17, 2024, passengers on an El Al flight from Tel Aviv to Dubai were taken on an airborne odyssey that lasted nine hours and ended with them returning to their point of departure without ever stepping foot in the United Arab Emirates.

The flight in question was a routine scheduled passenger service operated by the Israeli national airline between Tel Aviv and Dubai. The flight (operating as flight number LY971), was being flown by one of the carrier’s four-strong fleet of Boeing 777-200ERs registered 4X-ECE

The flight departed Tel Aviv Ben Gurion International Airport (TLV) at 02:40 GMT on April 17 for the scheduled three-hour flight to Dubai International Airport (DXB). However, with the arrival airport having been forced to shut as a result of the torrential rainstorms that hit the region over the previous 24-hour period, as the flight approached Dubai it became clear that the flight would not be able to land at the now-closed airport.

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Suparat Chairatprasert / Shutterstock

According to flight tracking data obtained from Flightradar24, flight LY971 overflew Dubai Airport at 05:22 GMT at 27,000ft and continued to head northeast. The aircraft then made an about-turn just four minutes later and headed back past Dubai Airport heading southeast towards the border with Abu Dhabi. With no landing in Dubai being possible, the crew had decided to head to Zayed International Airport (AUH) in Abu Dhabi with the intention of sitting out the storm and eventually heading back to Dubai later in the day.

Flight LY971 landed at Abu Dhabi Airport at around 06:00 GMT and parked up to await an improvement in the weather and the reopening of Dubai Airport. Passengers were kept onboard the El Al Boeing 777 in the hope that they would be taken to their intended destination on the same aircraft in due course. However, this was not to be.

With the aircraft having sat on the ground in Abu Dhabi for almost three hours, and with no possible chance of the flight making the hop across to Dubai to disgorge its passengers, the flight took off once again and flew back to Tel Aviv, its original point of departure where it landed at 11:40 GMT – exactly nine hours after it had left.

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According to reports, the passengers stayed onboard the plane throughout its stay in Abu Dhabi and returned to Tel Aviv, with this return flight using the original flight number of LY971. AeroTime has reached out to the airline for comment as to why the passengers were not disembarked at Abu Dhabi to continue their journey via a land-based transfer.

It may be that as much of the road network in the region had become overwhelmed with the sheer volume of rainfall, ground transfers were simply impossible. This article will be updated should a response be received.

Over the 24 hours, record levels of rain hit the region, with Dubai reportedly being soaked with more than 142 millimeters (5.59 inches) in 24 hours, according to the Associated Press. The storms led to widescale disruption for travelers across the UAE with multiple flight cancellations and airport closures.

Ironically, at the time of writing, 4X-ECE has just successfully flown from Tel Aviv to Dubai as flight LY971 where it now sits on the ground awaiting its return journey to Tel Aviv – presumably this time carrying a different set of passengers to those that flew out.

What are your thoughts on this elongated journey to nowhere? Feel free to share your comments below!

Dubai international Airport

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