Smell Of Smoke Forces United Airlines Flight To Make Emergency Landing

A United Airlines 757-200 made an emergency landing at Newark airport on Monday (04/11/19) after the flight crew reported a smell of smoke. The aircraft was headed for Orlando.

United 757 take-off
United Airlines Boeing 757 forced to make an emergency landing. Photo: BriYYZ via Flickr

Flight 800 bound for Orlando International was, writes The Aviation Herald, only airborne for about 12 minutes. Shortly after take-off the crew and some of the passengers could smell smoke. The captain halted the climb and returned to Newark.

Reports NBC New York, the FAA issued a statement late Monday which read: “The crew returned to Newark after it declared an emergency due to a report of smoke in the cockpit. No injuries were reported.”

According to some passengers, the smell of smoke was already evident before the aircraft left the gate.

The airline deployed a replacement 757 (registration N12114). The flight reached Orlando 3.5 hours late.

We have contacted United and are waiting for a reply.


Flight 800 (registration N13110) had been out of service for a week. Its first flight was between Newark Liberty International and Orlando. It departed at 06:27 local time, according to stats from Flight Aware. Three minutes into the climb from Newark’s runway 22R the crew leveled the aircraft at 5,000 feet due to what they reported to be a smell of smoke.

United 757 landing
Improper maintenance is often blamed for in-flight emergencies. Photo: Craig Sunter via Flickr

Despite being laden with fuel the aircraft landed safely at 07:03. A second aircraft was drafted in to continue the flight. The replacement 757 departed Newark at 09:30 without incident. The FAA was made aware of the event and will carry out its own investigation.


The cause of the smoky smell is yet unknown. It is also not clear whether the source of the smoke had been located or whether it was of an undetermined origin.

What is clear however is how serious the problem was deemed by the crew.

Boeing’s QRH advisory states that the crew may attempt to de-power various electrical elements while maintaining full management of the aircraft. If troubleshooting a cause is not an option (i.e. the problem is serious enough), a return to the nearest airport is advised.

There are three likely causes of in-cabin smoke contamination, according to Boeing:

  • Air-conditioning malfunctions: Incoming cabin air is contaminated with engine oil fumes or outside air. (BA422 experienced an engine malfunction just prior to touchdown at Valencia in August of this year).
  • Electrical events: The overheating or ignition of electrical equipment causes smoke and fumes to be released into the cabin bleed. (In September a British Airways 747 on course for Los Angeles diverted to Chicago due to the presence in-cabin of an “electrical burning odor”).
  • Material events: Devices such as galleys or stowed luggage or cargo ignites or begins to smoke. (We reported in August of an A330 forced to land due to a galley fire).
United B757 landing SFO
Fires of an undetermined origin are cause for an immediate return to base. Photo: Bill Abbott via Flickr

United safety events

October was a busy month for United’s safety investigators.

On October 8th a United flight between Orlando and Houston was diverted to Tampa due to the presence of smoke. Two days prior, a company Boeing 789 made an emergency landing after a loss of cabin pressure in mid-flight. On the 9th the engines of a B737-800 ingested a flock of birds, and at the start of the month a 787-10 suffered a fuel leak.

Despite these “niggles” United remains one of the safest airlines to fly, according to The Independent. That being said, it should not have escaped anyone’s notice that the pre-flight smell encountered by passengers boarding Flight 800 on Monday was evidently a warning of an impending problem.

That the crew decided to depart in any case may yet be investigated.