Home » United flight experiences “sudden and drastic loss of cabin pressure” – makes emergency landing at Grand Junction Airport
United Airlines flight 540 from Denver to San Diego experienced a "sudden and drastic loss of cabin pressure" and was forced to make an emergency landing at Grand Junction Airport Wednesday night.

United flight experiences “sudden and drastic loss of cabin pressure” – makes emergency landing at Grand Junction Airport

by Jeremy B

United Airlines flight 540 from Denver to San Diego experienced a “sudden and drastic loss of cabin pressure” and was forced to make an emergency landing at Grand Junction Airport Wednesday night.

The Boeing 737-800 left Denver airport bound for San Diego when it experienced cabin depressurization event as it crossed the Rockies, forcing the flight to divert to the nearby Grand Junction Airport.

UA540 Flight Path
Source: Flight Stats

We at the CBoardingGroup happened to be on this flight which, aside from being great fodder for a travel blog, was a briefly terrifying experience, which quickly turned to relief, and then mild irritation at being delayed.

a group of people sitting in a plane

The United Airlines crew did a phenomenal job as we diverted to Grand Junction and ultimately we had a safe, unremarkable landing that was still a relief as noted in our video below.

After spending some time on the tarmac while the crew figured out the next step we ultimately deplaned and spend the night in Grand Junction after hanging in the airport for a bit. The smaller Grand Junction airport was also lovely as they accommodated this unplanned emergency landing.

They recalled a few staff for the cafe which had already closed for the night. The airport staff were extremely pleasant while we all milled about waiting for the next step. Ultimately, we spent the night in Grand Junction while awaiting the rescue flight in the morning.

The passengers were in a mostly good mood throughout the incident and the crew was lovely, professional, and helpful the entire time.

The following video sheds some additional light on the incident:

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Greg April 30, 2021 - 10:50 am

First hand experience of this is rare- not to mention to a Boardingarea blogger! Glad all is safe – but I was hoping to see you describe in detail the moments leading up to and after the depressurization itself as a seasoned traveler.

The C Boarding Group April 30, 2021 - 11:04 am

LOL…it was brief panic (like everyone else on the plane) then the realization that this isn’t that big of a deal. The part that made the plane a little more tense was that there wasn’t an announcement made by the pilots for several minutes (presumably because they were “dealing with things”) and the FA’s all had their “serious faces” on. Calm, but serious as they managed the plane (and one baby who was sitting behind me and was having a hard time with the mask and the ear-popping). Once the pilot came on and announced what was up and that things were under control, the tension popped like a bubble.

Oddly…I was engrossed in a Netflix show I had downloaded and didn’t initially realize what was going on aside from the ear-popping and what I thought was turbulence (and was us actually reducing our altitude). The young lady sitting next to me couldn’t get her mask on and had to wave at me to get my attention and then I put mine on and explained to her what to do (which was pull a lot harder on the mask to disengage the cable holding it in place). You had to pull them a lot harder than you might expect.

I also had the wherewithal to take a selfie and film some in-cabin stuff when it became apparent this was not as serious as we all thought in the first 30 seconds or so. #BloggerForTheWin

The real story here (as noted on Live and Lets Fly) is the classy and professional behavior of the staff. They were pros during the event and classy after the event.

Anthony Lore April 30, 2021 - 3:43 pm

Greetings! I was a few rows in front of you in 3E – I have the dark grey hat on in your video. Pilots were phenomenal. I had a chance to talk to them in the terminal. It was a draining experience. What is the old adage – any landing that you walk away from is a good landing? Funny – I have a trip to Denver and back next week. Nice job blogging this. Again. – kudos to the crew. One thing to note is that when we continued on Thursday, we had the same flight attendants but new pilots. The original pilots stayed with the aircraft. An announcement was made that the flight from Denver was the first flight for one of the passengers, and that Thursday was their birthday…

The C Boarding Group April 30, 2021 - 4:08 pm

Thanks for the comment – remember seeing you up there. I was in the bulkhead seat 7D. Fully agree about the crew. They were great! Thanks for stopping in. I am sure we will cross paths again in the air. 🙂

Dave May 1, 2021 - 2:19 pm

Interesting that your experience was so great. Mine was not. My family and I were in row 14. Makes me wonder if the experience got worse the further back one was seated. Obviously I am glad that the pilot was able to get the plane landed safely. After that though there was a serious lack of communication and planning. It seems like United should have a playbook for something like this considering they have been in business for decades.

I am the CEO of a medical management company. Do you know what I have learned about people under your care? They want to feel safe and confident. They want to know that you know what you are doing and that you care about their well being.

The key to all of this is communication. #1 – Let people know what happened and that it is under control. #2 – Let people know that you have a plan. #3 – Have an organized way to carry out that plan.

Seems pretty simple and only three steps. That would allow passengers to experience less additional worry and stress. Look at the title of your article, United flight experiences “sudden and drastic loss of cabin pressure” – makes emergency landing at Grand Junction Airport. I’m sure people were already worried and stressed from the experience. The goal should be to reduce this stress.

I believe that they accomplished #1, but need considerable help with #2 and #3. The masks dropped at around 8:22PM. We then flew for about 30 minutes and landed. Onboard we were given three scenarios of what could happen by the pilot and we waited in our seats for the decision from corporate. Once the decision arrived that we would not be getting a rescue plane soon, we were taken off the craft. We deplaned at 10:05PM.

Once in the terminal I never saw a pilot or a flight attendant. Perhaps they were still working or already at their hotel by the time we deplaned. I received nothing official from United other than three texts. One that flight UA540 would depart Denver at 2:05AM gate 72B and then another text shortly after that the gate had been changed to 70A. That led me to believe that we would be returning to Denver that evening and catching the AM flight a few hours later to San Diego. That did not happen.

A red headed lady was the only official person I heard anything from inside the terminal. She appeared and gave an announcement that we would be spending the night. She did not introduce herself but I assumed that she worked for United or the airport. I felt sorry for her, because from my perspective, she was the only person running the show. She walked around and gave an announcement to the 3 or 4 different areas people were sitting and then she went to work the line for hotel assignments. It seems like there should have be a better plan other than 150 people rushing the check in counter for a hotel room, but then again she was all alone.

About 2 hours had passed since deplaning and we were finally at the head of the hotel line when the red headed lady announced “No more vouchers.” We were told that we should just get on a shuttle. Some people had vouchers and some did not. Those without had no idea if there would be rooms available when they arrived. We piled into a shuttle and were dropped off at the Ramada Inn.

Once inside were told that we would need a credit card to check in and that United would reimburse us. I thought, “What about the people that don’t have a credit card or the funds?” Maybe that is why I saw some people setting up camp to sleep in the terminal. While checking in a gentleman wearing a bright green fleece jacket asked the Ramada desk manager if there would be a shuttle in the morning to take us back to the airport. She replied “No.” He immediately turned around and yelled to the long line out the door “there is no shuttle back to the airport tomorrow” People were distressed and concerned and questioned her. Her response was “We don’t have a shuttle.” There was no communication from United until a third text at 7:01AM the next morning that our flight would be leaving at 10:00AM. No mention of how we would get to the airport. There was also never any mention of food, or consideration for meals. The Ramada Inn had no cafe or food other than chips and cookies in a vending machine. We went outside the next morning and formed a group near the door hoping for a ride. A shuttle did arrive at about 8:15AM.

During this experience most of the people I was near were full of questions: What happened? When are we leaving? Are we spending the night here? Are we going to get a hotel? How do we get there? What seats am I going to have? Do we get food? A lot of these questions that I had to assume the answers to because there was no communication from United.

This was a very unpleasant experience and I am not even going to go into how the COVID-19 protocols and procedures all went out the window. For many people this was their first return to traveling after a year of staying at home. Covid concerns were just a bit more stress to top off the experience.

I am not trying to bash United. My wife and I have close to 2 million air miles with United. We could have chosen any airline but we chose United years ago. My comments are to hopefully help them improve the customer experience. I am sure they spend millions on consultants each year to improve the customer experience. Did any of them ever suggest my simple 3 steps?

I am writing this on Saturday May 1, 2021. Still not a word from United.

The C Boarding Group May 2, 2021 - 5:23 pm

Sorry to hear you and your family had a rougher time!


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