Passengers found themselves stuck on a 13-hour “flight to nowhere” on Friday, when an Emirates service made a U-turn to its departure point after flying part of the way to New Zealand.

Flight EK448 from Dubai to Auckland, with a typical flight time of 16 hours, flew six and a half hours towards New Zealand before pilots made the decision to turn back.

The issue was extreme weather and flooding at its destination, Auckland airport, following devastating flash floods in the north of the country. The plane left Emirates hub in Dubai at 10.30am on Friday (27 January), flying southeast past Sri Lanka and towards Malaysia, before making a U-turn in the middle of the Indian Ocean and returning to the United Arab Emirates.

The unusual route was spotted by an aviation fan named Robbie, who tweeted: “Not the longest flight in the world anymore, but this Dubai-Auckland flight probably feels like it today.”

“With Auckland Airport closed due to flooding, Emirates decided to return to Dubai. Looking at about a 13.5 hour flight from Dubai to Dubai.”

Flight tracking website FlightRadar24 shows how the plane flew down over the Arabian Sea and partway across the Indian Ocean, almost making it to just south of Singapore before the U-turn back towards Dubai.

Passengers found themselves in the air for 13.5 hours in total before the plane landed at 12.25am, putting them back where they started. Several social media users marvelled at the decision, with one asking “Do you know why they couldn’t just go to Christchurch? Since 747’s land there.”

A social media professional for FlightRadar suggested that landing at a different New Zealand airport could prove a logistical nightmare for the Dubai-based airline.

“Then Emirates has an A380 stuck in Christchurch and needs to find hotels for everyone, ensure the crew rests, and then figure out how to get everyone back up to Auckland once the airport opens. Easier to manage the situation with everyone and the aircraft in Dubai,” its account responded.

“It may be a good decision for airline to comeback to Dubai but unlucky for the passengers, flew for 13 hours only to get back from where they started, was more of an Indian Ocean tour,” wrote another Twitter user.

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